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A tobacco company executive said he authorized the destruction of close to one million documents that might have aided plaintiffs in their suits against cigarette manufacturers. He also alleged the industry bribed international officials, according to documents made public by a leading tobacco critic in Congress. The documents were letters from Ron Tully to a board member of the Tobacco Documentation Centre, a British-based industry consortium for which Tully once worked. They were made public Thursday by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., after one of his aides saw them on the Web site for Philip Morris Inc. The company posts such documents as part of the tobacco industry’s 1998 legal settlement with states over the cost of tobacco-related health problems. Waxman sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft detailing Tully’s allegations and asking the Justice Department to look into them. If true, the allegations could help the government with its lawsuit against the industry, Waxman said. Tully worked for the tobacco industry group for seven years before joining Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. in 1997. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds had representatives on the group’s board. In 1998, Tully wrote letters to the Philip Morris board member complaining that the industry group was investigating whether he had committed financial wrongdoing. In his letters, Tully said he knew of instances in which he observed or participated in illegal activities for the industry. “I should advise you that I authorized the destruction of close to 1 million individual pages in my seven years at TDC,” Tully wrote. “The aim of the document destruction exercise was to identify and remove all documents which could be viewed as problematic, damaging or useful to plaintiffs in any ongoing industry litigation,” he stated. Tully warned that, “Once any can of worms is opened, it always amazes people what happens to crawl out. In the case of TDC, there are still many cans to (be) opened, and many worms to be dissected.” Tully also admitted taking part in efforts to gain damaging information about anti-tobacco activists to discredit them and wrote of tobacco industry bribes to health ministry officials from Malawi and an agency of the United Nations. Reached at his office Thursday, Tully refused to discuss the documents. “It was employment-related correspondence, and I have no comment about it,” he said. Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts said there are reasons to doubt Tully’s allegations. “We did look into the matter, and we found there was no evidence of any wrongdoing,” she said. She would not elaborate. Roberts said the documents should have no bearing on the Justice Department’s case against tobacco companies. “It looks like another effort by Mr. Waxman into pressuring the DOJ,” she said. Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said the agency had yet to receive Waxman’s letter. “Once we do receive the letter, we will review it and respond accordingly to Congressman Waxman,” Dryden said. A federal judge has ruled the government cannot recoup the cost of treating sick smokers but can pursue a racketeering case against the industry to recoup billions of dollars in profits allegedly earned through fraud. Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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