BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union court ruled on Tuesday that a former European commissioner from Malta resigned voluntarily and was not forced out over a scandal related to tobacco industry lobbying, and rejected his claim for compensation.
Health Commissioner John Dalli abruptly left office in October 2012 after the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF said he had been aware that an associate of his had asked a Swedish tobacco company for money in return for changes to EU legislation.
After Dalli met then Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Oct. 16, 2012, the Commission, the European Union's executive body, announced that the commissioner had resigned with immediate effect.
Dalli, an accountant and former Maltese finance minister, subsequently said he was unfairly forced out of his job and maintained his innocence in the graft scandal. He applied to the court to annul the resignation and grant him compensation.
The General Court, the second highest EU court, concluded that Dalli did indeed resign orally during the meeting with Barroso and that several factors showed he did so voluntarily.
These included comments he made in an interview with a Maltese radio station, limited annotations made by Dalli to the draft resignation letter and the absence of any official declaration by Dalli denying that he had resigned.
The court also found that Barroso had not made a formal request for Dalli to step down.
"The fact that President Barroso asserted, increasingly insistently in the face of Mr Dalli's reluctance and hesitation, that it would be more honorable for him to resign voluntarily than to be asked to do so, does not suffice to establish the existence of the alleged contested decision," the court said.
(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Paul Taylor)