European Union health commissioner resigns in fraud investigation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 3:37am

John Dalli, the European Union's top health official, has resigned after being cited in an EU anti-fraud probe into a tobacco-linked influence-peddling claim.

The European Commission said the health and consumer policy commissioner left "with immediate effect" after informing commission president Jose Manuel Barroso "of his decision following an investigation by Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, into a complaint" by tobacco producer Swedish Match.

The commission said the company alleged in May that a Maltese entrepreneur had used his contacts with Dalli "to try to gain financial advantages from the company in return for seeking to influence a possible future legislative proposal on tobacco products, in particular on the EU export ban on snus".

Snus, or Swedish snuff - also known as nas in some countries - is a moist powder tobacco originated from dry snuff.

Although its sale is illegal across the EU, it is manufactured and used in Norway and in Sweden.

"No transaction was concluded between the company and the entrepreneur and no payment was made," the commission said. But Olaf said it believed Dalli was aware of the attempt to corruptly influence him.

Dalli, himself a former Maltese businessman, confirmed his resignation to a journalist from the newspaper Malta Today, but added that he intended to defend himself and show that Olaf's assertions "are false".

"I resigned in order to have a free hand to prove that the allegations against me are false," he said, declining to comment on the conditions of his resignation.

"I feel like it's déjà vu," he added, alluding to his resignation from the Maltese government in 2004 over allegations that proved unfounded.

An Olaf report sent to the commission on Monday "did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events".