Belgian MEP Bart Staes and French colleague José Bové, from the European Greens, today will be meeting local authorities including police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit, as part of their fact finding mission on the controversial circumstances surrounding the resignation of John Dalli from European Commissioner last October.
Mr Staes is first Vice-chair on the Committee of Budgetary Control while his colleague is first Vice-chair on the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Contacted yesterday by The Malta Independent, Mr Staes pointed out that this mission is their own initiative and not being undertaken on behalf of the European Parliament. He said that this visit follows fresh evidence which emerged from the Olaf report, parts of which were leaked in the media and the damning verdict issued by Olaf’s supervisory committee.
Their engagements during this short visit include a number of meetings with the secretary to the cabinet, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice Owen Bonnici and the newly-appointed police commissioner.
The Belgian MEP said that they will “hand over relevant information to the Maltese authorities” but refused to give further details. Asked by this newspaper whether this “will raise even more questions about the case” he replied in the affirmative.
The two MEPs will be briefing the local media about their mission, later today at a news conference.
Kessler defends his handling of the case
In an interview with German news agency DPA, Olaf’s chief Giovanni Kessler, who is now under fire and resisting calls for his resignation rejected criticism levelled against him, describing his work as “fair, thorough”.
The report by Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud office, which led to the forced resignation of Mr Dalli, was based on what Mr Kessler had described as “unambiguous and converging circumstantial evidence”.
Mr Dalli had resigned amid allegations that, in his position as health commissioner, he had known that an acquaintance was dropping his name to solicit bribes from the tobacco industry.
“We are not accusing him (Dalli) of a crime,” Kessler told Dpa. “Being aware isn‘t a crime. But it is something to consider from an ethical point of view.”
“What is indisputable here is enough for a commissioner to resign,” he said, pointing out that the EU‘s executive had made a political, not a judicial decision.
Mr Dalli denied all the charges last year, insisting he had been hounded out of office. Court proceedings against him in Malta have been delayed as it was only recently that doctors declared Mr Dalli fit to travel or be interrogated.
The frozen legal proceedings have opened the ground for fierce speculation, according to the anti-fraud chief.
“The trial is in the (European) Parliament and the newspapers,” Kessler said. “There is a risk that the parliament ... is becoming a court.
“It is very dangerous,” he said, charging that confidential documents were being leaked selectively to make the case against Olaf. “I haven‘t participated in this game,” Mr Kessler said.
Among other things, the Olaf chief has been accused of tainting the impartiality of the investigation by directly participating - being present, for example, when Mr Dalli was interrogated.
Mr Kessler argued, however, that he had the ultimate authority over any investigation, and said it could be “intimidating” for his staff to confront the former commissioner. “It is also disrespectful to the former commissioner,” he added.
Olaf has also been accused of illegally accessing data on telephone conversations. “We never wire-tapped anybody,” Mr Kessler retorted.
He said the Maltese authorities had provided Olaf with evidence of a flurry of telephone exchanges between Mr Dalli and his Maltese acquaintance on the day that the latter allegedly requested a €60 million bribe from a tobacco industry representative.
The Olaf head said the accusations had serious repercussions, after an instance in which the “mechanism of the EU reacting to the pollution of EU institutions ... has worked well.”
“The independence of Olaf is at stake,” Kessler said.
“Olaf has done a fair, thorough investigation,” he added. “We knew perfectly that everything we have done and written would be deeply scrutinized. The commission reacted in the only possible way,” the Olaf chief concluded.