Silvio Zammit was the “golden key” for Snus companies to get their toe in the door to try and get an EU ban on the oral tobacco lifted, said Olaf Director Giovanni Kessler yesterday.
Testifying in the case against Mr Zammit, who stands accused of bribery and trading in influence, the head of the EU’s anti-fraud agency said that the meeting which the accused had secured for companies with former Commissioner John Dalli were, in his own words: “Bingo!”
In his testimony, Mr Kessler said the investigation into the snus affair began when he received a transmission letter from the EC Secretary General Catherine Day on 24 May 2012. Ms Day claimed she had received a report from snus manufacturer Swedish Match with certain facts about Mr Dalli and Mr Zammit.
During the investigation, it was discovered that on 20 August 2010, Mr Zammit arranged a meeting in Gozo between European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC) chairman Tomas Hammargren and John Dalli.
ESTOC, a lobby group representing producers of smokeless tobacco, including snus, was pushing for the EU ban on snus – which is only legal in Sweden through a derogation – to be lifted: Dr Kessler noted that snus producers deemed the ban unfair and that such lobbying efforts were in their interest.
“Now there was a new health commissioner, so it was of the utmost importance for them to have access to the person in charge,” Dr Kessler said, adding that there was a directive which stated that contact between public officials of the countries who have signed this treaty and representatives of the tobacco industry must be open and transparent.
A tête-à-tête on Snus
Mr Zammit and others who were present for the meeting left Mr Hammargren and Mr Dalli alone to have a tête-à-tête on Snus.
“This meeting was confirmed by Mr Zammit when he was interviewed,” Dr Kessler said. “John Dalli knew in advance that the meeting was about snus and accepted i.”
For Mr Hammargren the meeting with the new Commissioner for this portfolio was ‘Bingo!’, Dr Kessler maintained.
In October 2011, Mr Zammit again sent an email to the ESTOC chairman, proposing another meeting. At this stage Mr Hammargren was no longer chairman and the email was forwarded to ESTOC secretary-general Inge Delfosse. On 21 October Mr Zammit went to Stockholm and met with Ms Delfosse and told her that he could fix a meeting with John Dalli.
Mr Zammit later contacted Ms Delfosse and told her that Mr Dalli was ready to take some risks for Snus and is ready to “put his neck out”. Ms Delfosse informed Mr Gabrielsson from Swedish Match of her channel to the Commissioner and they decided to use this link and bypass all other Commission channels, Dr Kessler testified.
“They understood that they could not personally meet with the Commissioner, so they hired lawyer Gayle Kimberley and told her of Mr Zammit’s familiarity with John Dalli. Dr Kimberley agreed and it is confirmed that she arranged a meeting with Mr Zammit and Mr Dalli on 6 January 2012 in Malta,” Dr Kessler continued.
“On the same day, she sent a long email to Mr Gabrielsson saying that she indicated the point of lifting the snus ban and said that Mr Dalli was open to the case. Kimberley said that the Commissioner was open to further meetings and told Gabrielsson that another meeting was set up for on 10 February”.
Dr Kimberley was given documents by Gabrielsson as well as the questions ready for the meeting. On 7 February, Mr Zammit called Dr Kimberley and told her that Mr Dalli was only ready to meet him (Zammit). Dr Kimberley did not report this to Swedish Match, and instead put the questions to Mr Dalli in writing.
“How do we know for sure that these questions are real? We have Dr Kimberley’s statement and during her interview, she said she had written the questions and we saw them on her laptop. The document properties read that it was created on 7 February 2012,” Dr Kessler explained.
Phone call logs linking Dalli to Kimberley
“So how can we be sure the meeting did happen and was not all a lie created by Silvio Zammit,” Dr Kessler asked. “We asked John Dalli”.
Mr Dalli, he said, confirmed that he and Mr Zammit met on that day, however said they did not discuss snus.
Dr Kimberley then called Ms Gabrielsson, who later came to Malta and met Mr Zammit, who asked him for €60 million as Mr Dalli would be putting his career on the line. Kessler alleged that Zammit told Mr Gabrielsson that Dalli would be ready to meet him and a €10 million down payment would be needed.
After the request was not followed up by Swedish Match, Mr Zammit re-opened his link to ESTOC through Ms Delfosse. He had written her an email saying that he has “something very interesting for you”. Dr Kessler said that through the phone logs, it became apparent that Mr Zammit called Mr Dalli on the same days he called ESTOC.
On 29 March, Ms Delfosse phoned Mr Zammit and she recorded their conversation. “Historically this was a turning point for the investigation,” Dr Kessler said.
Mr Dalli admitted to lying to the Commission, Dr Kessler said, under cross examination by the defence.
Defence counsel Edward Gatt then challenged Dr Kessler, asking him whether the Maltese authorities informed him that they chose not to prosecute John Dalli. Dr Kessler said that he found out through the media.
“The new police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit appeared on a talk show and said the case on John Dalli is over,” Dr Kessler said.
As it happens, he ran into Mr Zammit at an event later on.
“I asked him whether he dropped the case and he said that the case is still open. This was many weeks after the talk show. He told me it was an issue of miscommunication,” Dr Kessler.
A meeting on the sun or moon
OLAF chief investigator Eduardo Cano Romera, who coordinated investigations into the case and reported the outcome to Dr Kessler, also testified in today's sitting.
Ms Delfosse had given him a recording of her phone conversation with Mr Zammit on an ESTOC pen drive, and this was presented to court.
In this recorded call, Mr Zammit guaranteed a proposal to lift the ban, and promised to organise high-level meetings, as long as ESTOC agreed to payments.
“Payments would need to begin to take place after the first meeting, which could take place anywhere, on the mountain, on the sea, on the sun or on the moon. You know what I mean,” Mr Zammit could be heard saying.
Mr Zammit said it would be a one on one meeting between ‘his boss and her boss.’
Ms Delfosse was taken aback when she was informed that an initial payment of €10 million would be required after the first meeting took place. Mr Zammit stressed that “we are risking. Everyone is working against it and for a high profile person to work in favour of it, then he is risking. The companies you represent would earn a lot of profit once the ban is lifted.”
Mr Zammit stressed, in the phone conversation, that tobacco kills. Ms Delfosse said that she has scientific evidence to fight for the case of snus, and that she was hoping to win without having to pay.
“At the end of the day you are doing a job. If they win they become rich, earn more and more. What about you and I,” Mr Zammit asked.
Ms Delfosse said she would get a salary at the end of each week, telling Mr Zammit that “it’s my job.” She then said she would bring the matter up with her boss.
"Did John say whether there was still enough time to make a change, there are a lot of rumors that it is too late," Ms Delfosse then said, to which Mr Zammit replied by saying that “there are rumours everywhere... the time is now.”
During his interview with Mr Zammit, Mr Romera noted that the accused was very arrogant, mostly making jokes out of questions asked.
“We asked him - what did you mean when you said my boss and your boss’. His response was that ‘my boss is God,’” he told the court.
Throughout the sitting Mr Zammit could be seen smiling and smirking, going as far as raising his middle finger to Dr Kessler at one point.
Another witness was OLAF official Alberto Potenza, who revealed that OLAF’s investigation into Mr Dalli’s Bahamas trip had not yet been concluded.