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Dalligate update: Kimberley denies asking for €60 million

| May 9, 2013

Defence lawyers of Sliema restaurateur Silvio Zammit yesterday pressed the police’s witness Gayle Kimberley on whether she was the one who came up with the €60 million figure at the heart of the Dalligate scandal.

Kimberley denied it categorically, but lawyer Edward Gatt insisted on the point, reminding the young lawyer that she was testifying under oath, according to a story in The Malta Times.

He then went back to a note that Kimberley had prepared for Zammit with a series of questions for the former European Commissioner John Dalli and asked why she had written down that Swedish Match made a turnover of €500 million, half of which was profit.

She said that the figure was suggested by Swedish Match, adding that the intention was to relay the message to Dalli that the company was actually a modest trader in the tobacco industry.

However, at this point, Dr Gatt and his colleague Kris Busietta pressed further saying that she had mentioned that figure because she was later going to ask for €50 million to lift the ban through her contacts with Dalli. She later suggested changing it to €60 million “so it would not be a round figure”, according to the lawyer.

Kimberley also rejected this but the lawyer again reminded her that she was testifying under oath, adding that she had plans to use the money to set up a lobbying office in Brussels and buy property in Sliema with her former lover Iosif Galea. Kimberley also denied this.

Shortly after this, Gatt stopped the cross-examination, saying he would continue at a later date because he needed time to review a lot of material, which the defence was analyzing, suggesting that they had material which was not available to the police or OLAF. Earlier, in fact, Gatt pointed out that Kimberley sent most of her emails through her phone. Nonetheless, when asked she said that neither OLAF nor the police had seized her phone, despite seizing her work and home computers.

OLAF report: no evidence against Dalli

| April 29, 2013

EU anti-fraud office OLAF had no hard evidence that former health commissioner John Dalli tried to solicit a bribe from a tobacco firm.

The information comes from its confidential report into the Dalli case, part of which was leaked on Sunday, April 28, by the MaltaToday news agency.

In his cover letter to the paper, dated October 17, OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler said: “There is no conclusive evidence of the direct participation of commissioner John Dalli either as instigator or as mastermind of the operation of requesting money in exchange for the promised political services.”

Dalli lost his post last year over allegations he used a middleman to ask tobacco firm Swedish Match for millions of euros to change EU legislation, according to a story published by EUobserver.com

Sale of Swedish Match’s mouth tobacco, snus, is banned in every member state except Sweden. Dalli’s task was – his accusers claim – to lift the ban in exchange for money.

The deal was allegedly brokered by Silvio Zammit (a Maltese local politician and restaurant owner with close ties to Dalli) and Gayle Kimberley (a Malta-based consultant hired by Swedish Match) at a meeting in February 2012. Dalli says he had nothing to do with Zammit’s scheme.

While the OLAF report admits there is no incriminating evidence, it still makes Dalli look bad. It says he attempted to muddle evidence and was most likely aware of Zammit’s plan.

Dalli met Zammit in February just three days before Zammit allegedly asked Kimberley for the money on Dalli’s behalf. Dalli initially denied his Zammit meeting took place, but changed his story later on.

OLAF also says Dalli met directly with tobacco lobbyists who “have a personal interest in a matter within his portfolio” in breach of the EU commissioners’ code of conduct.

He first met with Zammit and with the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC) in August 2010. He met again with Zammit and Kimberley in January 2012.

When questioned by OLAF on what went on at the various events, Dalli tried to hide “content relevant to the issue at stake.”

The OLAF report states “the inconsistency of commissioner John Dalli’s statements together with the findings of this investigation relating to him, could be seen as a serious breach of duty to behave in keeping with the dignity and the duties of his office.”

It adds: “there are a number of unambiguous and converging circumstantial items of evidence gathered in the course of the investigation, indicating that … Dalli was actually aware of both the machinations of Silvio Zammit and the fact that the latter was using his name and position to gain financial advantages.”

The report contradicts some recent statements made by euro-deputies. French Green MEP Jose Bove in March this year met with Swedish Match employees Johan Gabrielsson and Cecilia Kindstrand-Isaksson.

He said they told him the February 2012 meeting where Zammit allegedly asked Kimberley for the bribe never took place. They also told Bove that OLAF instructed Kimberley to lie about it in order to build its case.

OLAF denies this. Its leaked report faithfully records that Kimberley made “contradictory” statements about her relations with Zammit and Gabrielsson.

The former head of the commission’s legal service, Michel Petite – whose new employer, law firm Clifford Chance, works for tobacco giant Philip Morris – also played a prominent role in the affair.

The OLAF report says Petite met with his former colleague — the commission’s top civil servant, Catherine Day – to pass on Swedish Match’s bribery allegations, prompting the OLAF probe.

The report quotes another Swedish Match employee, Frederik Peyron, as saying: “We started planning for how to report this matter to the relevant EU authorities and contacted Michel Petite at Clifford Chance to receive advice. At our request, he contacted Catherine Day, and we submitted a written report on the matter.”

For German conservative MEP Ingeborg Graessle, the leaked report shows OLAF itself in a bad light.

“Despite missing some important pages, the document confirms the impression of a biased and partly amateurish investigation by OLAF,” she said on Monday.

“The part of the report now accessible is full of speculation, assertions and obviously uncritical repetition of witness accounts,” she added.

The Brussels-based pro-transparency NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory, agreed with her.

“It looks as if OLAF has selectively compiled arguments to support that Dalli had behaved inappropriately, without considering the credibility of the witnesses,” it said on Monday.

It described the Petite-Day relationship as “shocking.”

Police: Kessler interrogation illegal in ‘Dalligate’

| April 24, 2013

OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler had no authority to carry out an interrogation on Maltese territory, a senior police officer privy to the John Dalli investigation, according to a story in MaltaToday.

In comments that followed yesterday’s presentation of the OLAF supervisory committee’s annual report, which highlighted questionable legal practices employed by Kessler in his investigation of a bribery allegation, doubts have now been raised over the EU anti-fraud agency’s investigation it carried out Malta during the summer of 2012.

Giovanni Kessler had come to Malta to interview businessman Silvio Zammit, who is today accused of having solicited a €60 million ($77.9 million) bribe from Swedish Match in return to influence tobacco laws that banned the sale of smokeless tobacco snus.

Kessler had been aided by Rita Schembri – then a member of OLAF’s supervisory committee – who served as the head of the Prime Minister’s internal audit and investigations department (IAID) and of the anti-fraud coordinating service (Afcos) which liaised with OLAF, in organising the interview.

The interview was carried out at the IAID offices in Valletta after Silvio Zammit was approached by Kessler and Schembri at his Sliema kiosk.

“I’m baffled at the amateurish interrogation methods employed by Kessler and the fact that he ignored his legal obligations,” the senior police source told MaltaToday.