The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

Dalligate: Good news for Malta, bad news for Brussels

Malta Independent Thursday, 13 June 2013, 08:12 Last update: about 5 years ago

Last Saturday’s statement by Police Commissioner Peter Paul Zammit that the now infamous OLAF report that led to the sacking of Malta’s former EU commissioner John Dalli last October does not contain enough evidence to press charges against Mr Dalli was good news for Malta and, it must be said, very bad news for Brussels.

The fact that the Maltese police have not found enough hard evidence in the OLAF report to warrant a criminal case against Mr Dalli now places an added onus on Brussels to explain itself over Mr Dalli’s apparently forced resignation - a move that sent shockwaves through the European Union, shockwaves that are reverberating to this day.

But according to the Maltese police commissioner, the OLAF report that led to Mr Dalli’s resignation “only gave an indication” that there was something wrong.  He observed that the report’s accusations, and the way in which the case had been investigated by OLAF, were on an administrative level and that the level of proof required by criminal investigators were another matter altogether.

Nevertheless, one would have imagined that the bar for demanding the resignation of a European Commissioner would have been set much higher, especially in a case as sensitive as this one, in which the reputations of a Commissioner, the Commission itself and even that of a country have been dragged through the dirt.

But the acknowledgement by the Police Commissioner that, as matters currently stand, the police simply do not have enough evidence from the OLAF report to charge Malta’s former EU Commissioner John Dalli with anything is welcome news for the whole of the country, irrespective of anyone’s political stripe.

And although Mr Dalli is still not completely in the clear, as the Police Commissioner had stated that the case has not, as yet, been closed, the fact remains that in the absence of any hard criminal proof, Mr Dalli is to be presumed innocent – a status that the man had not enjoyed since being accused, in direct violation of the very tenets of natural justice.

With Mr Dalli having been forced to resign on the basis of an OLAF report that he was not even allowed to see at the time, and without so much as being given a chance to defend himself, Brussels will be pressured now more than ever to explain itself.

OLAF and the Commission are being pushed ever further into a corner to justify their actions and their reliance on what the report’s author, OLAF head Giovanni Kessler, had the nerve to describe as “unambiguous  circumstantial evidence” of improper lobbying to influence a proposal on the new tobacco legislation he was preparing.

Both Mr Kessler and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who had both undoubtedly hoped against hope that the Maltese investigators would find cause to bring Mr Dalli before the courts of Malta, will now have even more explaining to do.  Particularly so given the renewed calls from the European Greens and European People’s Party for at least Mr Kessler’s resignation over the affair.

But explanations over what can only be described as their strange behaviour in this case have been somewhat few and far between since the scandal exploded some eight months ago.

Mr Kessler, for his part, has been hauled over the hot coals for the way in which the investigation was carried out, particularly in light of testimony by a key Maltese witness in the case against Silvio Zammit that she had been hosted to lunch, with wine, by Mr Kessler during her interrogation, and that OLAF, according to its own supervisory body, had breached EU law when it tapped telephone conversations during the investigation without having had any legal basis to do so.

Mr Barroso, meanwhile, is in a very difficult position. Firstly, that fact that he took the drastic action of dismissing one of his commissioners over a report that did not have enough evidence for a criminal case to be instituted by the Maltese authorities, who are in this case the competent authorities, makes him look prone to knee jerk reactions at best and foolishly gullible at worst. His, and Kessler’s, best hope of getting themselves out of the hot water they are in would have been the filing of criminal charges in Malta which, according to the policed commissioner, will not happen any time soon.

And while he is empowered to take disciplinary action against Kessler, were he to do so that would reflect most poorly indeed on him and the whole of the European Commission that he heads, which has just a year left to its tenure.  If Kessler is kept on in the face of so many calls for his resignation over Dalligate, he is also likely to appear guilty by association.

As such, it will be all the more interesting when Kessler and the EU Commissioner responsible for OLAF, Algirdas Semeta, appear before the European Parliament's budgetary control committee next Tuesday to answer questions on the Dalligate affair.  Decisive action or a concrete statement from the Commission or from OLAF to address the gaping transparency deficit are, however, not anticipated.

Mr Dalli, meanwhile, has said that he is leaving practically no stone unturned to clear his name before the Belgian, and possibly the Maltese courts and in the process, he will, if successful, also clear Malta’s name. 

But as matters stand, it just may have to be up to Mr Dalli at the end of the day to institute a case before the European Court of Justice to test the validity of the OLAF investigation, and to conclusively prove his innocence.

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