EU's Dalli insists on innocence in tobacco scandal

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Media captionJohn Dalli: "I did not have any idea or awareness about any communication about this issue"

Former EU health commissioner John Dalli has insisted on his innocence in an alleged attempt to peddle influence, days after he resigned.

He was asked about a fresh allegation that a businessman with links to him had sought 60m euros (£49m; $79m) from a Swedish company.

"These are really fantastic figures," he told New Europe TV in an interview.

He said at the time he had absolutely no idea of any approach to the tobacco firm made on his behalf.

Mr Dalli, a former Maltese cabinet minister, has argued that he is the victim of a tobacco lobbying campaign to block tough new legislation - the Tobacco Directive - to make smoking less attractive.

'Down payment'

Tobacco producer Swedish Match said it had been asked to pay 60m euros, and in return the commissioner would water down the new legislation.

"I can say that those are the amounts we are talking about, and I'd also like to stress that for us the amount of money does not matter," Patrik Hildingsson, a spokesman for the Swedish company, told AFP news agency.

He said the alleged bribe would have been paid in two instalments, with 10m euros due before the new legislation was enacted, and the remaining 50m euros to be paid when the new rules were in place.

On Tuesday, the European Commission announced Mr Dalli's resignation, saying that the EU's anti-fraud office (Olaf) had established that a Maltese businessman had tried to use his contacts with Mr Dalli for financial gain.

Olaf said it had not found "conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events".

'Snus offer'

Swedish Match complained to the commission in May that a Maltese entrepreneur had used his contacts with Mr Dalli to try to gain financial advantages from the company.

The entrepreneur had allegedly offered to influence legislation regarding an EU export ban on snus, a smokeless tobacco taken orally.

No transaction was concluded between the company and the entrepreneur and no payment was made, the commission said.

Olaf's final report and its recommendations were being sent to the attorney-general of Malta, the commission added.

Mr Dalli, 64, became the EU's commissioner for health and consumer policy in 2010.

His official biography shows that his career in Maltese politics stretches back more than a quarter of a century.

First elected an MP in 1987 for the centre-right Nationalist Party, he was a cabinet minister in several governments, serving as finance minister three times.

Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic is taking over Mr Dalli's duties on an interim basis until a new commissioner of Maltese nationality is appointed.

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