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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.”

EU Tobacco Products Directive review to proceed

| October 18, 2012

A planned review of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive will proceed once a replacement has been found for Health Commissioner John Dalli, said EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen on Oct.  17. Dalli resigned following an investigation of a complaint by Swedish Match made in May.

The EU anti-fraud office, OLAF, found evidence that Dalli knew a “person close to him” was requesting a “substantial” sum of money from Swedish Match in return for seeking to influence the future legislative proposal removing or softening the existing ban on snus in the EU.

Dalli denies the claims and says he resigned to give himself “a free hand in opposing the allegations.” He also plans legal action to clear his name.

Malta Today identified the person who approached Swedish Match as Silvio Zammit, a well-known Maltese entrepreneur and councilor for the city of Sliema. Zammit resigned from the council five hours after the announcement of Dalli’s resignation.

Swedish Match said it takes the incident very seriously and expects the European Commission will “ensure a transparent and legally fair process for the proposal of a new Tobacco Products Directive, which is expected during the autumn.”

The company said it expects the available scientific evidence on the significantly lower health risks of snus compared with cigarettes to be considered in the review process.

Commenting on the investigation, a spokesman for the Union of Tobacco Growers in Europe called on the commission to abandon the proposals developed by Dalli and begin again with a fair and transparent process that results in tobacco regulations that will both protect a public health and tobacco farmers’ jobs.

 

EU commissioner resigns following Swedish Match complaint

| October 16, 2012

John Dalli has today announced his resignation as a member of the EU Commission, with immediate effect, according to an EU Commission press statement.

Dalli informed the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, of his decision following an investigation by OLAF, the EU’s antifraud office, into a complaint made in May by Swedish Match.

Swedish Match alleged that a Maltese entrepreneur had used his contacts with Dalli to try to gain financial advantages from the company in return for seeking to influence a possible future legislative proposal on tobacco products, in particular on the EU export ban on snus. As soon as the Commission received the complaint it immediately requested OLAF to investigate.

The OLAF report did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events. No transaction was concluded between the company and the entrepreneur and no payment was made.

The OLAF report showed the European Commission’s decisionmaking process and the position of the services concerned has unaffected by the matters under investigation.

The final OLAF report and its recommendations are being sent by OLAF to the Attorney General of Malta.

After the president informed Dalli about the report received from OLAF, Dalli decided to resign in order to be able to defend his reputation and that of the Commission. Dalli categorically rejects these findings.

Vice President Maros Sefcovic will take over the portfolio of Dalli on an interim basis until a new Commissioner of Maltese nationality is appointed in accordance with article 246 (2) of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union.