The European Commission has fined American company International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) and its French affiliate €15.9 million ($17.05 million) for obstructing an antitrust investigation into an alleged cartel in the fragrance industry. The Commission found that “during the inspection (in March 2023), a senior employee of IFF intentionally deleted WhatsApp messages exchanged with a competitor.” But some are saying it’s not just the corruption that smells, it’s the potential hypocrisy.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has had her own problem with “lost” messages. In February 2023, the New York Times sued von der Leyen “over controversial private text messages exchanged with Albert Bourla, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer”. Those texts were allegedly the negotiations to secure a €35-billion vaccine deal.

As Thomas Fazi wrote in UnHerd at the time: “The EU’s Values and Transparency Commissioner Věra Jourová later claimed that the text messages may have been deleted, due to their ‘short-lived, ephemeral nature’.” Short-lived, ephemeral WhatsApp messages — why do those ring a bell?