The Malta Independent 15 June 2021, Tuesday

John Dalli ‘uncomfortable’ maintaining snus ban, had ‘angry’ discussion with Cabinet

Jacob Borg Tuesday, 7 April 2015, 09:14 Last update: about 7 years ago

Former EU Health Commissioner John Dalli felt “uncomfortable” maintaining an EU-wide ban on snus sales and had an “angry” discussion with his former Head of Cabinet about the matter, Olaf interview transcripts with two key witnesses seen by The Malta Independent show.

Olaf- the EU’s anti-fraud agency - interviewed Mr Dalli’s former Head of Cabinet Joanna Darmanin and Cabinet member Paula Duarte Gaspar in July and August 2013 respectively as part of their second investigation into Mr Dalli’s time as EU Health Commissioner.

Mr Dalli denies any wrongdoing and has never been formally charged, although his former canvasser Silvio Zammit is facing court proceedings for allegedly trying to solicit a €60 million bribe from tobacco lobbyists in order to help overturn an EU-wide ban on snus sales.

The smokeless tobacco can only be sold in Sweden.

In an interview with investigators, Ms Darmanin said Mr Dalli started to question the snus ban towards the end of January 2012/beginning of February 2012.

“He was not comfortable with maintaining the ban on snus. We had a lively/angry discussion, toward(s) the end (of) January 2012/beginning (of) February 2012, shortly before the impact assessment was finalised...

“JD (John Dalli) again questioned the maintaining of the ban on snus, but after this long discussion he accepted to maintain the status quo. On a couple of occasions previously JD mentioned his discomfort with snus vs tobacco health effect and legality and illegality. It was rather frustrating to come back to the same questions towards the end of the legislative process,” Ms Darmanin told Olaf investigators.

She told Olaf that she knows Mr Dalli’s former canvasser Silvio Zammit “by sight,” describing him as a well-known figure in Sliema.

The first Olaf investigation which led to Mr Dalli’s forced resignation on 16 October 2012 shows Mr Dalli and Mr Zammit met in January 2012, together with lawyer Gayle Kimberley, who was representing snus manufacturers Swedish Match.

Mr Dalli told investigators that Dr Kimberley asked him whether the snus ban was fair, to which he replied that the Commission is not in favour of lifting the ban.

He said Dr Kimberley did not say she was representing Swedish Match during the meeting.

Mr Dalli held another meeting with Mr Zammit in early February, though denies discussing snus.

‘Mr Dalli indicated that he felt uncomfortable maintaining the ban on snus’

Another of Mr Dalli’s Cabinet members Paula Duarte Gaspar confirmed to Olaf that the former EU Health Commissioner argued in favour of overturning the snus ban.

Despite this, Ms Gaspar told investigators that the former EU Health Commissioner never gave the order to “lift or modify” the Commission’s position against EU-wide snus sales.

“The point of view of the Cabinet and DG SANCO (the Directorate General for Health) was that there was no reason to lift the ban on snus and we advised throughout that the ban should be kept. In this context it is important to mention that Mr Dalli had meetings with the Minister of Trade of Sweden.

“The latter expressed the view that it did not make sense that the ban on snus would be maintained because cigarettes were more damaging to health, i.e that cigarettes are more damaging than snus but cigarettes are allowed and sold freely while snus  is forbidden,” Ms Gaspar told investigators during an August 2013 interview.

“Mr Dalli indicated that he felt uncomfortable maintaining the ban on snus, referring to arguments of the Swedish Minister. My position as well as the position of the Head of Cabinet was that it was not even possible to consider lifting the ban for health and political reasons.

“We gave him some arguments, the main one being that historically cigarettes had been on the market for ages, whereas this was not the case for snus. Plus snus is as addictive as cigarettes. Young people can start with snus, get addicted and then start smoking. Plus other countries do not want to liberalise snus.

“Mr Dalli mentioned this argument a few times. The first time was around the first meeting with the Swedish Minister for Trade in the margin of the Competitiveness Council. I will check the date.

“On another occasion, it was when discussing with Mr Dalli and the Head of Cabinet the final options of the impact assessment. We both strongly advised Mr Dalli to keep the ban on snus. But, as I said, he raised the issue on a few other occasions. His point of view was that he felt uncomfortable about if for the reasons mentioned above.

 

“However, Mr Dalli never gave us instructions to lift or modify the Commission’s position nor did I have any indications that he wanted to consider the lift on the ban of snus.” 

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