EU court to rule on tobacco smuggling case Jan 15
BRUSSELS, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Japan Tobacco will learn next week if their court bid to stop the European Commission suing them for cigarette smuggling has succeeded, officials said on Monday.
The European Court of First Instance will rule on January 15 on the firms' challenge, in which they said the EU executive overstepped its powers by taking them to a U.S. court.
The Commission launched three actions against the companies in a New York district court between November 2000 and January 2002, accusing them of involvement in money laundering and smuggling, and demanding damages and lost taxes.
The New York court dismissed the Commission's actions, saying U.S. courts could not enforce a foreign tax claim such as in the allegation of smuggling.
The Commission said last March it would appeal in a U.S. federal court, saying U.S. firms' involvement in tobacco smuggling cost the EU several hundred million euros in customs and tax revenue every year.
In October it also launched a separate civil action for money laundering against R.J. Reynolds, and refused to rule out launching similar cases against other companies in future.
The Commission has also pursued a campaign against smoking in the 15-nation bloc, where more than half a million people die of tobacco-related diseases each year.
Last month, it landed a blow when the EU's highest court backed a crackdown on tobacco advertising, including tough rules on labelling and composition of tobacco and bans on terms such as "mild" and "light".
That ruling came a week after health ministers banned tobacco advertising on radio, in newspapers and on the Internet.
The crackdown brought criticism from organisers of Formula One motor racing, who threatened to move races out of the EU in protest against the ban on tobacco sponsorship.