TPD: Burglaries

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Background

During the night of 17-18 October 2012, the Brussels offices of three tobacco control advocacy organisations were broken into. It concerned the offices of the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP), the European Respiratory Society (ERS), and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA). [1][2][3]

The burglaries came shortly after European Union (EU) Health Commissioner John Dalli resigned on 16 October, because of a “cash for influence” lobbying scandal dubbed by media as ‘Dalligate’. Dalli’s resignation occurred only days before he was due to launch the much anticipated, and strongly contested, proposal for a strengthened EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).[4]

Visit TPD: Dalligate Timeline, for a detailed breakdown of events leading up to Dalli’s resignation.

Burglaries

Four offices on 49-51 Rue des Treves, an office block of over 20 offices, were broken into in the early morning of 18 October 2012. The targeted offices were located on the 2nd, 5th and 8th floor, and housed three tobacco control organisations and one law firm.

The law firm reported that their office had been forced into, but nothing had been disturbed.[1] In contrast, the three tobacco control organisations reported that intruders had stolen laptops, petty cash, and bank cards, including:

  • Four laptops from the shared ERS/SFP office, three of which belonged to people working on tobacco control[5]
  • Two laptops from the EPHA office[6]

While desktops and other laptops were not taken, EHPA reported 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”.[6]

Tobacco Industry Involvement Not Proven

The circumstances and timing of the burglaries, made some media suspect that they were linked to the revision of the TPD, and that the tobacco industry may have been involved.[1][2][3] The targeted organisations had been actively campaigning for the adoption of a strengthened TPD. Months earlier, the SFP had warned about tobacco industry influence, publishing evidence of tobacco industry tactics employed to block and delay the first TPD.[7]

The tobacco control organisations did not confirm the media rumours, but stated that the burglaries appeared to have been carefully planned, and were not a crime of opportunity. The ERS' statement read:[8]

”While the office initially seemed carelessly ransacked, our security report shows that the break-in was in fact very methodical and calculated. Outdoor sensors were destroyed, and the intruders managed to skilfully evade indoor sensors within the office. ERS is 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.”

Similarly, the EPHA stated that “early indications are that this [the break-in] was not opportunistic, but a professional and well-equipped team.”

Tobacco industry involvement was never proven, and the police has not apprehended those responsible for the crimes (February 2017).

TobaccoTactics Resources

Relevant Links

TCRG Research

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 M. Dalli, Offices of anti-tobacco NGOs in Brussels ‘overturned, ransacked by intruders’, Malta Today, 18 October 2012, accessed February 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 La Tribune, European Commission: ‘Dalligate’ begins to look like a crime novel, 26 October 2012, VoxEurop, accessed February 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 A. Rettman, Break-in at anti-tobacco NGOs in EU capital, 18 October 2012, EUobserver, accessed February 2017
  4. S. Peeters, H. Costa, D. Stuckler, M. McKee, A. B. Gilmore, The revision of the 2014 European tobacco products directive: an analysis of the tobacco industry’s attempts to ‘break the health silo’, Tobacco Control, 2016; 25:108-117
  5. Smoke Free Partnership, SFP Office Break-In Statement, 18 October 2012
  6. 6.0 6.1 European Public Health Alliance, EPHA public statement - Break in will not distract EPHA, 18 October 2012, accessed February 2016
  7. S. Mandal, A.B. Gilmore, J. Collin, H. Weishaar, K. Smith, M. McKee, Block, Amend, Delay, Report on Tobacco industry's efforts to influence the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive, the Smoke Free Partnership, May 2012, accessed February 2017
  8. European Respiratory Society, European Respiratory Society Statement: 18th October 2012, 18 October 2012