EU commissioner pleads innocence
The EU health commissioner at the centre of a tobacco lobbying scandal has spoken out to newspapers and on TV to protest his innocence.
Malta's John Dalli on Tuesday evening (16 October) first hit back at allegations of improper conduct with the help of New Europe, an online newspaper on EU affairs, which emailed his statement to journalists in Brussels.
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The email noted that Dalli "was unable to disseminate through European Commission [sic] as they did not have the technical capacity to disseminate it at that moment."
Dalli's statement said: "I deny categorically that I was in any way aware of any of these events."
Despite resigning from his post earlier in the day, he added: "I will continue to work so that all efforts made by myself and my services to revise the tobacco directive [a new EU law] will proceed as planned."
He later told Maltese newspaper MaltaToday: "There are no facts or proof over my involvement. They just invented something and it's all circumstantial evidence."
He then appeared on Maltese TV station TVM to say: "I resigned so that I could have a free hand in opposing the allegations made about me ... I don't want to be a liability to anyone."
"For me this is deja vu," he added, in a reference to previous corruption allegations in Malta, which have dogged his decades-long political career.
Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, told the Maltese parliament also on Tuesday that he is looking to replace Dalli with a new Maltese commissioner in Brussels, rather than waiting for Dalli to clear his name, however.
Meanwhile, MaltaToday has obtained a copy of an email sent in 2011 by Silvio Zammit, a deputy mayor in the Maltese town of Sliema, to Swedish Match, a mouth-tobacco producer, asking for money to broker a meeting with Dalli.
Zammit also resigned from his post on Tuesday.
Swedish Match said in a statement that it "promptly" reported the incident to the commission.
It added: "Swedish Match expects that the European Commission in the future will ensure a transparent and legally fair process for the proposal of a new tobacco products directive which is expected during the autumn."
The new law, says Smoke Free Partnership, a Brussels-based anti-smoking NGO, has already been delayed by tobacco lobbying in the EU capital.
"There is no reason why this unfortunate event should add any further delay," it noted on Tuesday.
But the tobacco lobby sees things differently.
"Today we call on the EU commission to abandon the proposals developed by Mr Dalli and begin again with a fair and transparent [tobacco law] revision process," Unitab, a Paris-based group representing tobacco growers, said on Wednesday.
For its part, the Brussels office of pro-transparency NGO, Transparency International, said the affair indicates that "selling influence and personal connections may still be a feature of EU lobbying."
"If that is the case, EU institutions need to take anti-corruption measures much more seriously. This includes strict adherence to the code of conduct for commissioners and a mandatory register for lobbyists and interest groups," it added.