Offices of anti-tobacco NGOs in Brussels ‘overturned, ransacked by intruders’

48 hours after John Dalli resignation, anti-tobacco NGOs speculate over reasons behind ransacking of their fifth-floor offices.

After John Dalli's resignation from the European Commission, the offices of three anti-tobacco NGOs were ransacked early this morning.
After John Dalli's resignation from the European Commission, the offices of three anti-tobacco NGOs were ransacked early this morning.

The offices of three anti-tobacco NGOs were allegedly ransacked during the early of hours of Thursday morning in Brussels.

The news, first posted on Twitter by Brussels-based journalists, came just over a day after the resignation of health EU commissioner John Dalli, and soon became the subject of conspiratorial claims that tobacco lobbies had entrapped a Maltese 'businessman' by offering a fee to broker a meeting with Dalli.

According to one of the NGOs, Smoke Free Partnership, their fifth-floor offices were "overturned and ransacked by intruders".

The offices belong to the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP), the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

As expected, the NGOs have been asked whether the break-in is in any way related to the forthcoming review of the Tobacco Products Directive - now on ice - and Dalli's resignation. An EPHA spokesperson said that it was "too early to comment". However, it reiterated its call to the European Commission and President Hose Manuel Barroso to release the directive in the interests of public health and transparency.

In a separate statement, ERS said that confidential data relating to the revision of the directive and other issues were stolen from its office.

"As a professional medical society, we take precaution to protect our data and premises. Of all offices in the eight-floor building where we are situated in Brussels, together with the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP), only one - ERS/SFP - has alarm sensors on their balcony," it said.

"While the office initially seemed carelessly ransacked, our security report shows that the break-in was in fact very methodical and calculated."

According to the ERS, the outdoor sensors were destroyed and the intruders "managed to skilfully evade indoor sensors within the office".

"We are an evidence-based organisation and we do not subscribe to conspiracy theories. However, in light of the evidence we feel we have legitimate reason to suspect the intrusion was well-planned, researched and targeted," it added.

Another statement issued by SFP, the NGO said that all organisations' offices were situated in the same building on 49-51 Rue des Treves, Brussels on the second and fifth floors.

"When the Police arrived, it was soon apparent that only three offices - from a building with over 20 - had been broken into with SFP, ERS and EPHA being the only organisations ransacked and with multiple items missing."

During a press conference held this afternoon, EPHA stressed that the organisations were situated on different floors in the same building. A fourth office was forced into but nothing was disturbed.

The NGO insisted that the break-in "was not opportunistic, but a professional and well-equipped team".

The EPHA said that two laptops were stolen from its offices: "Desktops and further laptops were not taken. The two laptops belonged to the policy team and a senior staff member."

Together with the laptops, cash and personal belongings were removed.

"Some early indications are that both electronic and physical files were targeted including policy and strategy documents, as well as confidential internal documents relating to EPHA's organisation and staff," it added.

SFP that in total four laptops were stolen, "three of which belonged to people working on tobacco control".

EPHA went on to say that it remained committed to its position on the need for stricter legislation on tobacco products, greater enforcement of lobbying transparency and ensuring that policymaking is not controlled by powerful vested interests.

These raids call for a major concern what happens inside the dark corridors of power in the EU. This incident is nasty and seems to be a part of a Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code novel. Something smelly is going around here and MR. Dalli seems to be the sacrificial lamb.
X'issib fuq l-internet. Jista' xi hadd jikkonferma jew jichad dwar dawn. Grazzi.