The supreme court of Switzerland annuls the judgment that found Pascal Diethelm and Jean-Charles Rielle guilty of defamation against Ragnar Rylander


On 17 April 2003, the Federal Tribunal, the supreme appeal court of Switzerland, has annulled the judgment pronounced on 13 January 2003 by the Court de Justice [cantonal appeal court] of Geneva against Pascal Diethelm, president of OxyGenève, and Jean-Charles Rielle, physician in charge, CIPRET-Genève, in the defamation case brought against them by Ragnar Rylander, professor emeritus and former director of the department of environmental medicine at Gothenburg University. Although the full text of the judgment has not been released yet, the reason invoked by the Federal Tribunal for the annulment of the judgment is in itself quite remarkable: "arbitrariness", a rare and exceptional motivation that is only applied to judgments that are blatantly flawed. The Federal Tribunal has exempted the appellants from the appeal expenses and has requested the Canton of Geneva to indemnify them for their legal fees. Although one should wait for the full text of the judgment to get the details, one can already say that this exceptional decision represents a great victory for public health and the smoking prevention movement in Switzerland - and in the world - as it removes the last obstacle that obstructed the full restoration of the truth in what is now known as the "Rylander case".


Ragnar Rylander had filed a complaint against Pascal Diethelm and Jean-Charles Rielle, accusing them of defamation, following their press conference in March 2001 in which the two tobacco-control and public health specialists had revealed the professor's secret ties to Philip Morris and had indicated his implication for almost 30 years in a scientific fraud "without precedent" that consisted of the systematic and deliberate denial of the health hazards of passive smoking, of the creation of an artificial scientific controversy, and of the corruption of the scientific record with biased results.


The first instance court, the Tribunal de Police, judged the case on 24 May 2002 and found Pascal Diethelm and Jean-Charles Rielle guilty of defamation. The tribunal admitted as proven the fact that Rylander had secretly worked for Philip Morris and went as far as qualifying his links with the company as being "covert". However, the judges ruled that the evidence presented by the defendants was insufficient to prove that Rylander had been one of the most highly paid consultants of Philip Morris and that he had been involved in a scientific fraud "without precedent". The defendants were condemned to pay a fine of CHF 4'000.—each. The decision was immediately appealed.


In its judgment of 13 January 2003, the Court of Justice confirmed the decision of the first instance tribunal, but significantly reduced the amount of the fine, down to CHF 1'000. Paradoxically, the judgment confirmed all the allegations of the defendants. The court considered as proven the facts that Rylander was "secretly employed by Philip Morris" and that he was "one of Philip Morris's most highly paid consultants". Furthermore, the court concluded that Rylander "did not hesitate to deceive the general public in order to show himself favorable to the tobacco company that was paying him", and further observed that, in particular, "the study on respiratory diseases in children in which he altered the data base so that no link could be made between passive smoking and the frequency of respiratory infections, appears fraudulent." The court also determined that the "Rylander symposium" was favorable to the tobacco industry. But curiously, the court brought a new charge against the defendants, arguing that they had "given the impression" that Rylander's "whole career was nothing but a vast deception", indicating that "this kind of exaggerated statements cannot be tolerated", and confirmed the first condemnation and even deprived the appellants of the possibility of invoking their "good faith". (See for the full text of the judgment)


Pascal Diethelm and Jean-Charles Rielle are very pleased and wait with great confidence to see the full text of the judgment. The outcome of the annulment decision can only be in their favor, since neither the public prosecutor, nor the civil claimant, Ragnar Rylander, appealed the decision of the Court de justice.


(Communication by CIPRET-Genève and OxyGenève, 23 April 2003)