Europe’s Top Health Official Quits, and the Bloc Has a Mystery on Its Hands
BRUSSELS — The top health official for the European Union suddenly resigns. His plans to place marketing curbs on tobacco companies are put aside. The offices of antitobacco groups are burglarized. There is talk of cash payments of tens of millions of dollars by Big Tobacco.
John Dalli, at a news conference on Wednesday, said he had been forced to resign.
The swirl of rumors here around events inevitably called “Tobaccogate” has a noirish tone that is unfamiliar in Brussels, the European Union capital better known for turgid debates about fish quotas. And much still remains mysterious and tangled in unproven accusations.
The one certainty: The fall from grace last week of John Dalli, the commissioner for health and consumer protection, was remarkably sudden. It came after investigators concluded that he had probably known about an attempt by a lobbyist to solicit a multimillion-dollar payoff in exchange for easing a ban on snus, a form of tobacco sold in small pouches and placed between the gum and lip.
In his latest public comments on the matter, Mr. Dalli denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying at a packed news conference that the European Commission president,José Manuel Barroso, had given him 30 minutes to resign.
Mr. Dalli said that he had requested 24 hours, so he could seek legal advice, and that resigning might have been an error because it suggested guilt. But Mr. Dalli insisted that he had to do so, because Mr. Barroso has the authority to dismiss any member of the commission.
“I had no choice,” Mr. Dalli said. “The door was open, and it was simply walk out or be thrown out.”
Mr. Dalli said he would meet with a lawyer to assess whether to file suit, including at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, saying that his civil rights had been violated and that he wanted to clear his name. “I have never been offered any money by anyone to alter any issue that I am responsible for, including this case of snus, either directly or indirectly,” he said at the news conference.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the union, said Mr. Barroso had no choice but to demand Mr. Dalli’s resignation.
Read the rest of the article here: NY Times