Correspondence released under EC sunshine laws shows Swedish Match reps insisting on reversing snus ban with EC secretary-general Catherine Day.
Swedish Match and its lobbyists were seeking a reversal of the EU's ban on snus only a few days before the resignation of John Dalli as health commissioner, over an OLAF investigation that suggests he was aware of a €60 million bribe to reverse the ban.
The company had made the complaint that led to the investigation which culminated in Dalli's resignation on 16 October 2012, but the former commissioner says the EU-wide ban on snus - a teabag-like pouch of tobacco that is placed beneath the lips - had long been sealed back in February 2012 in his review of the Tobacco Products Directive.
Letters released under a freedom of information request to the transparency group Corporate Observatory Europe's Erik Wesselius shows that Swedish Match, the producers of snus, was still calling on high officials of the European Commission not to persist in an EU retail ban of snus in the upcoming launch of the Tobacco Products Directive for 22 October.
The released correspondence shows:
- Minutes of a meeting between Swedish Match representatives and EC officials from the DG-Sanco, the health affairs directorate.
- Swedish Match's company secretary Frederik Peyron telling EC secretary-general Catherine Day on 12 October to hold a meeting and clarify issues related to the TPD review and its ban on snus;
- A reply from Day dated 22 October - six days after the resignation of John Dalli - that a meeting would not be appropriate until such time as a new commissioner is appointed.
The documents show that Swedish Match were actively pursuing a reversal on the EU's retail ban on snus - available for sale only in Sweden under a derogation - in the run-up to the launch of the Tobacco Products Directive.
On 18 September, Swedish Match representative Johann Gabrielsson - a member on the European Smokeless Tobacco lobby (Estoc) and formerly a Commission employee at the enlargement directorate-general - met Sanco officials.
Although John Dalli has insisted that the TPD and its ban on snus had long been settled earlier in the year, Swedish Match were insisting that Brussels should lift the ban because scientific evidence showed that it was less dangerous than cigarette smoking.
Then on 12 October, Swedish Match company secretary Fredik Peyron wrote to Catherine Day and the Commission president's head of cabinet Johannes Laitenberger, again complaining on the EU ban, and requesting a meeting with the EC secretary-general.
Following John Dalli's resignation on 16 October, just a week prior to the launch of the TPD, Day replied to Peyron on 22 October saying a meeting would be inappropriate until such time as a new health commissioner was replaced to take over from Dalli and launch the Tobacco Products Directive, which had been frozen when Dalli resigned. "I would suggest that you take contact with the office of the new Commissioner once that person has been appointed," Day wrote.
Swedish Match is the company that reported an attempt by one of John Dalli's canvassers, Silvio Zammit, of requesting a €60 million bribe from locally-engaged lawyer Gayle Kimberley, who was acting on either Swedish Match or ESTOC's behalf, some time between January and February 2012.
Kimberley, formerly a lawyer at the European Council's legal services, may have shared a connection with Swedish Match's Johann Gabriellson, formerly an EC employee at DG-ENLARG.
The Swedish Match complaint was made in May 2012 when the EU's anti-fraud OLAF was asked to investigate Dalli, interrogating the commissioner twice before presenting the covering letter of its report to European Commission president Josè Manuel Barroso, in which it said there was "unambiguous circumstantial evidence" that Dalli was aware of the bribe.
Dalli, who resigned on 16 October, said he was asked to resign his post by Barroso.
The former commissioner has since claimed that he suspects his review of the Tobacco directive was deliberately postponed by elements in the Commission.
He said the law passed through two impact assessments, but was then stopped before it could be distributed to the Commission's services to review the law's impact on all their remits, for a 25 August deadline. "It was stopped in its tracks with a letter from the EC secretary-general and the head of the Commission's legal services, who said they had to review certain aspects of the legislation and as such they felt it should be postponed," Dalli said.
"After discussions we scheduled another launch for the beginning of October. But a few days before that, the directive was stopped yet again, on the pretext that these types of files should wait until the end of the European Council."