Prosecutors refuse to open criminal investigation into firms as it ‘would not succeed’
Jon HenleyThu 22 Feb 2018 11.22 GMT
Dutch public prosecutors have refused to open a formal criminal investigation into four major international tobacco companies on charges of attempted murder or manslaughter, saying there is too little chance of a conviction.
Anne Marie van Veen, a Dutch lung cancer patient, and an Amsterdam lawyer, Bénédicte Ficq, filed a criminal complaint in 2016 accusing major tobacco companies of intentionally aiming to turn smokers into addicts and of causing “deliberate damage to public health”.
It alleged the multinationals were guilty of “attempted murder, alternatively attempted manslaughter and/or attempted and premeditated severe physical abuse and/or attempted and premeditated injuring of health”.
Backed by more than 20 different groups including the Dutch family doctors’ association, the city of Amsterdam and the Netherlands’ main cancer hospital, the complaint targeted Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco Benelux.
It also accused the companies of forgery, arguing that they had “for years declared on tobacco product packaging levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide that were lower than the actual levels”.
But the prosecutors said in a written statement that within current Dutch legislation they could see no prospect of a successful prosecution against tobacco companies, ruling that smoking was “deadly, and the design of cigarettes contributes to that, but the tobacco producers do not … act in breach of the laws and rules”.
The Dutch association of cigarette and tobacco manufacturers had argued that the demand for criminal prosecution was little more than a publicity stunt and that it was “confident the sale of a legal, heavily regulated product is not a crime”.
According to the most recent figures from the Dutch central statistics agency, nearly a quarter of the Dutch population smoke, compared with almost 16% of British adults, and about 20,000 Dutch citizens die annually from smoking-related illnesses.