“Was European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, with or without his knowledge, manipulated by the tobacco industry into drumming his Health Commissioner out of office on October 16 over corruption claims?” wonders Libération, now that the evidence implicating John Dalli “appears increasingly flimsy.”

The daily’s Brussels correspondent has obtained a recording in which an employee of “Swedish Match, the producer of snus, which began the affair, acknowledges that OLAF, the Commission’s anti-fraud office, told him to give a totally false account of events”.

The daily explains that there are also doubts about a meeting which allegedly took place on February 10, 2012, and which plays a critical role in the case against Dalli.

According to Swedish Match, it was [on that day] that a deal was concluded between a friend of Dalli’s, Silvio Zammit, and Maltese lawyer Gayle Kimberley, agreeing that the Swedish company would pay €10m for a meeting with the European Commissioner and an additional €50m for the authorisation of snus. The corruption allegation relates to this meeting and a previous encounter between Dalli and Kimberley in Malta a month earlier, in the course of which Kimberley presented the commissioner with three pages on the non-harmfulness of snus. However, although he acknowledges that the first meeting took place, Dalli has consistently denied that there was a second one on February 10.

“In other words, the most important piece of evidence [in the case against Dalli] is based on two lies: one put forward by Kimberley, and another affirmed by OLAF,” explains Libération, which quotes the Commission’s vice president for agriculture, José Bové, who finds the affair “more and more dubious.”