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Dalli investigation ‘biased, partly amateurish’ – MEP rapporteur on OLAF

NGO says tobacco lobbyist is Barroso’s ‘ethics man’ who informed Commission of Silvio Zammit recording.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
29 April 2013, 12:00am
Michel Petite (right) - NGOs said the tobacco lobbyist, formerly the European Council's head of legal services, now advises Barroso on lobbying.
Michel Petite (right) - NGOs said the tobacco lobbyist, formerly the European Council's head of legal services, now advises Barroso on lobbying.


German MEP Inge Graessle, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the legal powers of the anti-fraud agency OLAF, has blasted the investigation into John Dalli as "biased and partly amateurish" in one of the first reactions to the OLAF report, leaked by MaltaToday on Sunday.

"The original report by the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF on former European Commissioner John Dalli that has now been published by a Maltese online news portal opens up more questions than it provides answers," Graessle, the European People's Party group's coordinator in the EP's budgetary control committee said.

"Despite missing some important pages, the document confirms the impression of a biased and partly amateurish investigation by OLAF, coupled with violations of basic rights. The part of the report now accessible is full of speculation, assertions and obviously uncritical repetition of witness accounts," Graessle said.

The report does not include two pages, but has the full conclusions reached by OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler, who also identified witness Gayle Kimberley as a possible accomplice to an alleged €60 million bribe that a Maltese businessman, Silvio Zammit solicited from Swedish Match to lift an EU ban on the sale of snus. Kessler also said that former European Commissioner John Dalli could have tarnished the image of the EU by not disassociating himself from Zammit, but no direct evidence of his role as either instigator or mastermind behind the bribe was ever found.

"The interview records annexed to the report demonstrate an amateurish approach by OLAF, with the written records alleging that one OLAF official was attending different witness interviews at the same time. How is that possible?" Graessle in the first statement by an MEP.

A midday briefing at the European Commission on Monday, the day after the leak of the report, was devoid of any questions to Commission spokespersons on the OLAF investigation.

Transparency NGO Corporate European Observatory's first reaction to the leak was to question the role of the European Council's former head of legal services Michel Petite, who works as a lobbyist for tobacco giants Philip Morris - Swedish Match's partners in the USA - for the firm Clifford Chance. It was Petite who informed Catherine Day, Secretary General of the European Commission, of the recording.

"Petite went through the revolving door to work at lobbying-law firm Clifford Chance, whose clients include tobacco giant Philip Morris. Petite is also a member of the European Commission's ad-hoc ethical committee, tasked with advising on conflicts of interests when Commissioners go through the revolving door, re-appointed for a second three year term in December 2012. Corporate Europe Observatory will urge the Commission to remove Michel Petite from the ad-hoc ethical committee to end this outrageous conflict of interest," CEO said.

CEO noted that OLAF had no direct evidence in hand, but claims of "unambiguous and converging circumstantial evidences" [sic] indicating that Dalli "was actually aware" of Silvio Zammit's machinations.

The 'evidence' presented in the report does not back up this claim. After having read the report we can only conclude that OLAF's investigation was seriously flawed and that its conclusions are unconvincing, if not biased.

It looks as if OLAF has selectively compiled arguments to support that Dalli having behaved inappropriately, without considering the credibility of the witnesses. OLAF has not assessed the possibility that there is an element of entrapment by the tobacco industry. Several elements in the investigation report point to this being a real possibility and therefore failing to properly assess this scenario is a serious failure.

CEO took to task OLAF's conclusions, which suggested that Dalli broke the Commissioner's Code of Conduct by meeting tobacco lobbyists without declaring the meeting.

"OLAF's conclusions make a big deal out of Dalli having violated the transparency rules for contacts with tobacco lobbyists of the World Health Organisation. While this might be the case, it has become clear that also the top of the European Commission, including Barroso's own cabinet, ignored these rules. The Commission should urgently start taking the implementation of these rules seriously. Using the WHO rules as a justification for Dalli's resignation is not convincing. On the basis of this logic, several other top Commission officials would have to resign," CEO said.

"In the report OLAF refers to the Code of Conduct for Commissioners, but the actual wording of the code is far too weak to serve as justification for Dalli's resignation. Transparency campaigners have long argued for the need to tighten the Commission's ethics rules, to clarify what can be considered appropriate relations between Commissioners and lobbyists.
matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.