Waxman Requests Inquiry Into ‘Insider’ Tobacco Letters
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) yesterday asked the Department of Justice to investigate allegations that a tobacco industry group destroyed more than one million internal documents "to keep them out of the hands of legal opponents," the Los Angeles Times reports (Levin/Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/7). In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Waxman "urged" the DOJ to investigate the allegations, which were made in letters written by Ron Tully, a former executive for the tobacco trade groups Infotab and the Tobacco Documentation Centre. In Waxman's letter, he said the information contained in Tully's letters could be "new evidence of serious wrongdoing by the tobacco industry" (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 12/7). Tully's letters allege that the "three largest members" of the Tobacco Documentation Centre directed him "to identify and remove all documents which could be viewed as 'problematic,' damaging or useful to the plaintiffs in any ongoing industry litigation." In one letter, Tully wrote, "I authorized the destruction of close to one million individual pages in my seven years at the TDC. [A]s you are aware, such document destruction is a serious matter for the courts."
The Washington Post reports that Tully's letters also charge that the tobacco industry tried to "systematically ... discredit anti-smoking activists," and that it attempted to bribe Hiroshi Nakajima, former head of the WHO. The letters also say that the industry succeeded in bribing health ministry officials in Brazil, Malawi and Zimbabwe as well as officials from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Waxman said the letters "suggest obstruction of justice, bribery, tax evasion, violations of antitrust law and numerous other illegal or unethical activities" (Vedantam, Washington Post, 12/7). The allegations were contained in two letters Tully sent to Marion Funck, general counsel for German cigarette maker Reemtsma. Copies of the letters were received by Philip Morris, and were recently disclosed to a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the company. As part of a litigation settlement between the industry and the United States, tobacco companies must put documents they use in lawsuits on a web site (Los Angeles Times, 12/7). Tully's letters were then discovered by Pascal Diethelm, a Swiss health activist, on the Web site http://www.pmdocs.com/ . Diethelm then notified the WHO, who notified a Waxman staffer (Washington Post, 12/7).
The Wall Street Journal reports that the letters could be helpful to Waxman as he tries to "pressure" the DOJ to pursue the government's racketeering lawsuit against major U.S. cigarette manufacturers (Wall Street Journal, 12/7). A federal judge last September threw out part of a civil case brought by the Clinton administration against the tobacco industry attempting to recover "billions of dollars" in smoking-related health care costs. However, the judge allowed the DOJ to continue in its attempt to litigate tobacco companies for violating federal racketeering laws by conspiring to conceal the dangers of smoking from the public (California Healthline, 9/29/2000). Philip Morris vice president Jay Pool "dismissed" Waxman's letter as an attempt to keep the DOJ from "abandoning its lawsuit against the tobacco industry." Pool added that Philip Morris had conducted its own investigation into Tully's claims and "found no evidence of wrongdoing" (Los Angeles Times, 12/7). Justice Department spokesperson Susan Dryden said the DOJ would review the letters and "respond accordingly" (Washington Post, 12/7).