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    U.S. Undercut by Key Witness in Tobacco Trial

    Government lawyers speculated Northrip knew industry destroyed documents.

    WASHINGTON -- A longtime lawyer for major cigarette manufacturers said Monday government lawyers erred when they speculated he would testify he knew that the industry had destroyed documents, reported the Associated Press.

    Justice Department lawyers had written in a court filing that attorney Robert Northrip would say he knew that documents central to a lawsuit in Australia were destroyed. The suit involved an Australian subsidiary of British American Tobacco Co. plc.

    But when Northrip took the stand Monday in the government's racketeering case against the industry, he said he first heard the allegations about document destruction when they became public as part of the court decision against the Australian company two years ago. He also filed a document with the court last week saying the government was wrong to speculate he knew about document destruction in the Australian case.

    Justice lawyers declined comment Monday.

    The Australian court decision had named Northrip as one of several people who might be "likely to know whether such documents were destroyed."

    David Bernick, who represents Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., also owned by BAT Co., said the government lost this round in the case. "I think he was supposed to be the key witness for them," Bernick said of Northrip. "It turns out that he had no involvement in document destruction."

    Northrip also faced questions about an industry memo indicating he advised tobacco executives to destroy research showing cigarette additives were harmful. He testified that he told his clients only that they could destroy data about additives that were tested but not ultimately used in cigarettes.

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