Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported a €60 million bribe to reverse a snus ban that was in force since 1995.
Updated at 2:26pm.
John Dalli has denied any knowledge of a €60 million bribe that was asked of Swedish Match, in an alleged bid to change an export ban on Swedish snus in his review of the Tobacco Products Directive he was to launch on 22 October - next Monday.
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet says the chairman of the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC) Patrik Hildingsson - who is also the vice-president of snus manufacturer Swedish Match - has confirmed his company was asked for some €60 million to influence a legislative change in the export ban on snus that has been in force since Sweden's accession to the EU in 1995.
Hildingsson (pictured), whose company filed a complaint to the European Commission over the alleged bribe, is chairman of the same lobby which on 16 March - according to an email published in MaltaToday - asked Maltese restaurateur Silvio Zammit how much he would charge for an "informal meeting" with European health commissioner John Dalli.
Dalli resigned on Tuesday over an investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF which claimed there is "circumstantial evidence" that shows he was aware that Zammit was using his name, in a bid to extract a bribe, to influence EU legislation.
"As I have told OLAF before, I don't know anything of this offer, and neither did I know what was going on between these parties. This is news to me," Dalli told MaltaToday this afternoon.
"Additionally, they are rather fantastical fees for a request to change something that was simply not possible to consider," Dalli said.
Dalli was leading an anti-smoking campaign culminating in a review of the Tobacco Products Directive for 22 October, which also reinforced the ban on smokeless tobacco among other things. Swedish snus can only be sold in Sweden under an EU dispensation.
According to the former commissioner, the forthcoming review did not include any change in the status of snus. "A court sentence already bans the sale of snus outside Sweden. Changing it would have been political suicide. Additionally, I finalised the directive on 25 February, which kept the snus ban and also proposed a ban on all smokeless tobacco."
Dalli said that after closing the directive, and carrying out the ensuing public consultation, he was informed in August that the European Commission's secretariat-general and its legal services wanted to overhaul parts of the law due to some proposals they did not consider acceptable. "Although it was postponed to 22 October, the directive still kept the snus ban, so there was no question of any change in the law from its status on 25 February."
Aftonbladet has reported that the alleged bribe was requested in the form of a €10 million down-payment, and then another €50 million after the export ban on snus was removed.
Aftonbladet said the Swedish Federation of Trade estimated a €300 million increase in export revenues for Sweden if the ban was reversed. Swedish Match also operates a joint-venture with Philip Morris International for the sale of snus outside of Scandinavia and the United States.
Hildingsson told Aftonbladet: "You have to very careful when you suspect that legislation is on sale. What is clear, is that there should be absolute zero tolerance."
Hildingsson also surmised that Dalli's Mediterranean origins could have undermined his professionalism: "I don't know how widespread this is. Could it be that we in the Nordic countries are less susceptible to this type of business? This is just unpleasant."
MaltaToday has already reported that Philip Morris representatives and ESTOC secretary-general Inge Delfosse met John Dalli in a public consultation meeting in Brussels on 7 March to discuss the review of the Tobacco Products Directive, which was expected to keep the ban on snus sales. [READ PDF of minutes]
Delfosse then spoke to Zammit via email on 16 March, claiming there were "bad rumours" in Brussels and enquired how much he would charge to set up an informal meeting with Dalli.
Hildingsson told Aftonbladet it was not up to him to comment on claims by health groups such as the European Respiratory Society, whose offices were ransacked the day after Dalli's resignation, that a conspiracy was afoot to put the Tobacco Directive review on ice.
The Barroso Commission has so far confirmed that it will be a new health commissioner who will see to the Tobacco Directive review, which as things stand, is now frozen.
Swedish snus was also threatened by Dalli's attempt to ban different flavourings of tobacco, which the EC claimed was deisgned to attract women and minors to the smokeless tobacco mix, which is consumed by being placed under the lip. The contentious issue is at the heart of a big struggle between big tobacco firms and big pharma interests all vieing for the European Commission's favour.