The Malta Independent 20 February 2019, Wednesday

Dalli claims his ‘entrapment orchestrated from the very beginning’

Malta Independent Sunday, 16 June 2013, 10:16 Last update: about 6 years ago

Former EU commissioner John Dalli, in an interview with this newspaper, does not rule out the possibility of his reinstatement to the European Commission as a result of a court case he has brought before the European Court of Justice and, while insisting he has been the victim of a set up that was a lot bigger than just Swedish Match, he says that “there are a lot of interests” that were involved in his ousting from his post last October.

“There is a lot more to emerge and my mission now is to ensure that the whole truth does come out,” Mr Dalli says.

Following eight months of trials and tribulations since he was unceremoniously dismissed from the European Commission last October, Mr Dalli breathed a sigh of relief after Police Commissioner Peter Paul Zammit stated yesterday week that there is not enough proof to bring criminal charges again against Mr Dalli in the courts of Malta. On Friday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat offered him an executive role, which is still officially unspecified, in the country’s new administration.

But while matters appear to be looking up for Mr Dalli, he still has a long, hard fight ahead of him in clearing his name once and for all.

According to Mr Dalli, OLAF and Swedish Match were “out to get me” from the outset and that the truth was never the priority in the ensuing OLAF investigation.

“They were out to get me because they knew that with me as the Commissioner there would be a tough tobacco directive, full stop. I think that was the Commission’s motivation. I had met European Commission President José Manuel Barroso in October 2011 [a full year before he was controversially dismissed from his post] and he had tried to tell me to go slow on the tobacco directive, that we would have a lot of legal problems.  But I had told him plainly that I had a political commitment to Europe’s citizens, and that I was going ahead with the directive as a whole.”

Mr Dalli, citing the OLAF report itself and a document distributed by Swedish Match to the media and the European Parliament, says that Swedish Match had set the ball rolling on what he calls an “aggressive entrapment policy” against him a long time before his ousting in October 2012.

Mr Dalli says that requests made by Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC), a European tobacco lobby, to meet him through businessman and his former canvasser Silvio Zammit had never been made known to him.

“The message was never passed on so I did not even know they were asking for a meeting. But when the requested meetings did not happen, that is when Swedish Match started its aggressive entrapment policy against me. 

“We need to put into context the reported email sent on 16 March 2012 to Silvio Zammit by ESTOC assistant secretary-general Inge Delfosse. In that email she told him that she was hearing ‘negative’ rumours from Brussels about the upcoming tobacco directive, and she asked him to arrange a meeting with me and how much money they could pay for that meeting.

“First of all, on 13 February there was a meeting between Swedish Match’s Johann Gabrielsson, Gayle Kimberly and Silvio Zammit. Gabrielsson is an important player in all this and I consider him the project manager of this scheme. He was employed only a few months before, in October 2011, and his job seems to have been to organise this scheme. 

“He knew Gayle Kimberly through his wife, who used to work with her, and through her they brought in her friend in Malta Iosef Galea, who got in contact with Silvio Zammit.

“At that meeting Zammit and Kimberly informed Gabrielsson of this supposed meeting that never took place on 10 February, and about the offer of €60 million in exchange for changing the legislation.”

Turing back to the 16 March email to Zammit in which ESTOC requested a meeting with Mr Dalli against payment to Zammit, he says, “I believe that this email was intended to get from Zammit a written version of what was said on 13 February.

“In fact it is very interesting to note that the day before, on 15 March, there was a meeting between Inge Delfosse who sent the email, and Patrick Hildingsson, the vice president of Swedish Match and also the president of ESTOC. 

“Hildingsson, back in February, after Gabrielsson informed him of this amount of money that was allegedly requested to amend the tobacco directive, wrote that he was scandalised about the offer and that they gave the Swedish Match people instructions to sever all relations with Silvio Zammit.

“But low and behold, the same Patrick Hildingsson, who was also the president of ESTOC, does not give the same instructions to the lobby, and on 15 March, the day before Delfosse sent this email, he only tells this her to be careful of Zammit. 

“In the evidence presented in the OLAF report, he says that he told her everything about what happened between Zammit and themselves – that Zammit was asking for the money, to be careful, but the next day she sends this email to Zammit asking what he will charge to set up a meeting with me.

“That doesn’t make sense and it was simply the first stage of the entrapment – they had decided that the only way to go forward was to behead the commissioner, me.

“Moreover, there is nothing in the documents that shows Zammit even replied to this email, which is what they wanted. I do not know if they called each other, I have no information about that but then on 29 March Delfosse phoned Zammit and illegally recorded the phone call – so what they did not get in writing they tried to get recorded.

“What is more interesting is that in this recording, Delfosse was mentioning my name – this is malafede at its best, this is fraud, she was simply trying to falsely incriminate me in the recording.

“When they had this clip of the phone call in hand, Swedish Match contacted their lobbyist, Michele Petit, who was the director general, the head, of the Commission’s legal services about three years before. That means that he was very close to Barroso and Commission secretary general Catherine Day. He was a very close collaborator of both of them, this was a real camaraderie – much more than that of a canvasser.

“This is a completely different category. OLAF its head Giovanni Kessler tried to make a great deal out of the fact that Zammit was a canvasser of mine, but the fact of the matter is that I have hundreds of canvassers. Silvio Zammit was a canvasser for me only in the last election, 2008, but I have canvassers who started with me in 1981. 

“In effect, this Petit went and communicated the allegation to Catherine Day before Swedish Match even wrote to her about the allegations, and this is all part of OLAF's evidence in its report.

Mr Dalli is flabbergasted at how OLAF considered Zammit as having had any influence with him. “They have no understanding of how things work in Malta.  

“First of all they assumed that because he had my mobile number he must be very close to me but the fact of the matter is that number was my public number that was printed on all my 2008 campaign literature, and as such some 60,000 people had that number.”

“This is the situation that we have. The OLAF report is completely flawed, not just because of procedures, which OLAF’s own supervisory committee has castigated it over, but also in substance. This report is completely flawed and this is the basis on which Barroso made his decision to remove me from the Commission.

 

Truth ‘very simple and straightforward’

The first observation I make when meeting Mr Dalli for the first time since I interviewed him last October just days after the scandal broke, is that his story and version of events has not changed one iota. But that in the meantime both the European Commission and the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF, which drew up the report that led to his dismissal, have changed positions and scrambled for answers on so many occasions that it has become more of an accountant’s job to keep track.

“I was telling the truth,” Mr Dalli flatly says. “The truth is very simple and straightforward. I did not have to manoeuvre myself around untruths whereas the Commission, OLAF and its head Giovanni Kessler have been manoeuvring all along. 

“This has been unbelievable,” he says, adding that the whole matter has become more unbelievable still through information that has been made public, through the OLAF report and the various correspondence between the European Parliament and the Commission, through the information that was literally squeezed out of the Commission by NGOs after they demanded it as per their rights, and after the OLAF supervisory committee opinion highlighting the problems that the OLAF investigation has been infested with.

What, I ask, does all that has transpired since last October tell him?

“It tells me very clearly that OLAF had simply started from a conclusion and then tried to fill in the gaps by trying to create evidence they could not find. Therefore they had to hinge the accusations against me on what they termed as ‘unambiguous circumstantial evidence’, which turned out to be very ambiguous in fact. And when they could not even find that evidence, they invented it.”

He cites a number of fabrications from OLAF’s own report, such as the accusation that a second meeting with Maltese lawyer Gayle Kimberly had taken place and at which the sum of €60 million had been discussed when Mr Dalli had temporarily left the office. 

“This,” he says, “was an outright lie and I have to stress that this is very much a parallel with what happened in 2004, when the actions of then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had also been based on the outright lies in the Joe Zahra report. As in that case, this OLAF investigation was based on the lie that was told to Swedish Match, and which Swedish Match reported to the Commission – that €60 million had been requested for me to alter the tobacco directive in favour of Swedish Match.

“This was all pure fantasy, it never happened. They even said that the meeting took place here in this office and that it was tantamount to meeting Ms Kimberly in my bedroom. This is the office, is this a bedroom in any way shape or form?

“This was the state of mind prevailing at the beginning of the investigation, when Mr Kessler described me as a mafioso to Ms Kimberly, telling her that she needs to be careful of me because he has experience in Italy that and he knows how these people work.

“This was at the beginning of the investigation and this shows the mindset at the time.”

 

Resignation or ousting?

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has insisted time and time again that on that fateful day last October that Mr Dalli had voluntarily resigned, an affirmation that Mr Dalli describes as “completely farcical”.

“I fought with Barroso for 90 minutes on the issue, and whether that can be considered as a voluntary resignation or not is not merely a matter of opinion. I asked Barroso to see the report so that I would know what the hell he was talking about. He refused and said it was confidential. I asked Barroso for 24 hours so that I could consult a lawyer, and, again, he refused. I was given a mere 30 minutes – this is the voluntary resignation he is talking about. 

“I commenced my action in the European Court of Justice to annul this decision, because it is completely false. They had even given me a resignation letter to sign, which I did not sign. They were also sending me other papers to sign so that I could start receiving my transition allowance and relocation expenses, which I would have been entitled to had I resigned, but I signed nothing.

“My position is and has always been that I have not resigned. In fact, the Commission twice sent a payment of the transition allowance to my bank account.  I simply wrote to them and sent it back because my position is that I have not resigned. 

What can he expect from the ECJ court case, I ask. 

“There are a lot of possibilities,” he says. Reinstatement is one of them and I am not ruling it out.”

He also points out that if there is no reinstatement there will be damages to be considered – material damages such as loss of salary and pension which can be calculated, and also moral damages, which in Europe can be quite significant.

He says he is also contemplating cases for human rights violations before the European Court of Human Rights, as well as other cases against individuals in their personal capacities. He has also started a case before the Belgian courts against Swedish Match for defamation.

“There have been a lot of calls for resignations, but so far I was the only one who was made to resign. Barroso is now hiding behind this excuse of the issue being a political one and his acolytes are also echoing this.

 

Tobacco Directive’s continued suspended animation

While back in October Mr Dalli had said his removal from the European Commission had been orchestrated so as to stall the tobacco directive. His successor, Tonio Borg, had however presented the directive in its original form.

Mr Dalli confirms that the draft legislation as presented was the same as that which he had drafted, but points out that, given the timing, it could be another five years until the directive sees the light of day, and that the draft will inevitably be amended.  He points out that next year will see the election of a new Commission, meaning that as from next January the pace will slow down considerably.

As such, he says that unless the directive is signed, sealed and delivered by the end of this year, the directive will not be passed through in this legislature. And if that does not happen, Mr Dalli says that everything will have to start again practically from scratch with a new Commission and that it will be another five years in the making.

Mr Dalli points out that his schedule to launch the interservice consultation on the directive was 22 August of last year. 

“Had we achieved that,” he says, “we would have pushed the directive through without any problem. But that was postponed by [European Commission secretary general] Catherine Day. Another date was set for September and that was postponed again. Then when I was dismissed, the next date, the Monday following my dismissal, it was postponed again.”

 

David and Goliath

“This is not a question of politics, it is a question of absolutely ruining one’s life,” Mr Dalli says of his ordeal.

“On a personal level it was terrible. I have also suffered serious health problems as a result of all this, after having been ridiculed and my reputation smeared globally – this was not Malta, people were talking about this across the world. 

“The pressures of the ordeal were enormous, with everybody you meet looking at you with a pitiful gaze, people distancing themselves from you. You become a pariah.

“The foreign media a long time ago changed its attitude toward the case and many have now shifted this to being a Barroso problem.  But since Police Commissioner Zammit made his statement yesterday week, the situation has changed completely.  I had a lot of support in Malta from the people who know me. Those who know me and know who I am could not believe what they were hearing. But now everybody feels very comfortable with approaching me, talking to me, being seen with me.

“I thank God, because this was a miracle since we were grappling with big forces – the tobacco industry, the Commission, the Maltese government. I was like David with three pebbles fighting Goliath. Commissioner Zammit’s statement was a big relief and in fact I will be organising a thanksgiving Mass next week, because I really believe this is something we need to thank God for.”

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