Europe’s Snuff Justice

ROME – Late last month, Brussels was rocked by the surprise resignation of European Union Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli over his alleged involvement in a tobacco bribery scandal. Dalli, the first individual EU commissioner to be forced to resign, has professed his innocence and even vowed to sue the European Commission, intensifying a dispute between the Maltese politician and his former boss, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

The accusations are linked to the EU’s new Tobacco Products Directive, which was supposed to have been launched on October 22, under Dalli’s leadership. The directive would have imposed stricter controls on the sale of tobacco products in Europe, while preserving the existing ban on the sale of snus, a kind of chewing tobacco.

While the directive would safeguard EU citizens’ health, it would also deprive the tobacco industry of billions of dollars in profits. And, after a four-month investigation, OLAF, the EU’s anti-corruption watchdog, concluded on the basis of “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” that Dalli was aware that a Maltese businessman with links to him had demanded a €60 million ($78 million) bribe from the tobacco company Swedish Match to lift the ban on snus.

Dalli denies any involvement in the affair, suggesting instead that Barroso sacked him to appease vested interests, and claims that his Maltese associate’s alleged corruption was simply well-organized entrapment.