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[WATCH] Dalli says European Commission wanted to lift snus ban

Former Commissioner says EC and OLAF did not question Swedish Match’s motivation and conflict of interest in his ‘entrapment’.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
1 May 2013, 12:00am
John Dalli said that the Commission wanted the snus ban lifted
John Dalli said that the Commission wanted the snus ban lifted


The former EU commissioner for health, John Dalli, has declared that the European Commission's secretary-general Catherine Day and the EU's legal services wanted to water down the Tobacco Products Directive's provisions on cigarette packaging and displays, and "remove the ban on smokeless tobacco".

Full MaltaToday coverage of DALLIGATE

The claim, made in an interview for German television channel ZDF, suggests that Dalli's resignation in October 2012 was the end-result of an attempt at spiking his revision of EU tobacco rules, which included a ban on snus, the smokeless tobacco.

"Nobody questioned Swedish Match's motivation when they made their report [to the EC secretariat-general... It is scandalous that their allegation was believed outright, when they had a vast conflict of interest in the matter. And a decision must have been made, and the process started, for an investigation to prove the allegation," Dalli said.

LINK TO VIDEO on ZDF

His statement, made before MaltaToday published a leaked version of OLAF's investigative report into allegations that Dalli was aware of a €60 million bribe request made to Swedish Match, ties in with allegations of collusion between the tobacco lobby and the European Commission.

The European Commission yesterday confirmed that it was former head of the EU's legal services Michel Petite, now turned tobacco lobbyist for Clifford Chance and representing firms like Philip Morris and Swedish Match, who informed EC secretary-general Catherine Day of the bribe allegations.

As revealed in the OLAF report, Swedish Match general counsel Frederik Peyron informed Petite of a recording made the 29 March 2012 by Inge Delfosse, the secretary-general of the European Smokeless Tobacco Council, in which Silvio Zammit asks for €10 million to broker a meeting, allegedly with John Dalli, ostensibly to have the ban on snus lifted.

The contact with Day would have been made sometime after 29 March, and before Swedish Match officially filed their complaint with her on 21 May.

But Dalli was less clear about whether it was Commission president José Barroso, who himself re-appointed Petite to his ad hoc committee on regulating Commissioners' contacts with lobbies, wanted the Tobacco Products Directive watered down.

"The industry was completely against these plans, and there was a massive lobbying exercise not just with my services [DG-Sanco] but also with other commissioners to persuade them that what we were doing was against citizens' freedom, and the single market rules," Dalli said.

He added that Day and the EU's legal services wanted to remove the ban on smokeless tobacco, and without implicating him directly, added that "Barroso is the president [and the secretariat-general and legal services] naturally work together."

The end result of the Tobacco Products Directive, which upheld the ban on Sweden's chewing tobacco being sold elsewhere in the single European market, was "weakened somewhat but sufficiently strong to be effective," Dalli commented.

Dalli reiterated his previous denials: that he did not ask for money or instructed Silvio Zammit, a political canvasser, to ask for money, or that he discussed the snus ban with anybody after his 6 January 2012 meeting with Gayle Kimberley, a Maltese lobbyist employed by Swedish Match for €5,000 to secure access to the then-commissioner, and whom Dalli claims he did not know before their meeting.

Dalli instead claimed that allegations that he met Kimberley on 10 January at his Portomaso office, and where he was present when Silvio Zammit floated the possibility of a payment being made to lift the ban, turned out to be untrue.

"This is a complete lie that was confirmed so by OLAF when they talked to me. And very recently, even by Johan Gabrielsson, who said he was informed by OLAF that this meeting never took place. But he also said OLAF told him to [stick to the wrong version of events] so that he doesn't disturb the investigations [carried out by the Maltese police]," Dalli said, referring to a recorded conversation held between the Swedish Match public affairs director and Green MEP José Bové.

Kimberley was revealed by the OLAF report to have lied to Swedish Match about a 10 January meeting in which Zammit suggested a monetary payment to lift the ban, and in the course of the investigations, was revealed to have been possibly an accomplice to the bribe request Zammit made to Gabrielsson on 13 January, in her presence.

But the Maltese police never issued any charges against her.

Dalli instead accused OLAF and the European Commission of having targeted him "to show that there was evidence that I was involved in these type of things, so they used this meeting that did not exist as the basis of allegations, to start this investigation."

Dalli said that he was forced to resign by EC president José Barroso, and was refused a 24-hour breathing space to consult his lawyer.

"He took out a paper which he read out, saying that OLAF were saying they didn't have proof of my involvement... but that they believed I knew what had happened and I didn't stop it," Dalli said of OLAF's main accusation: that he omitted to report the fact that Silvio Zammit was trading in influence by using his familiarity with John Dalli.

"He told me I had to leave, 'either you resign or I fire you. I have two press releases, depending on what you do. I will release it at 5pm and I have a phone call booked with the Prime Minister to tell him that you are finished'," Dalli claimed.

"I replied that this was an invention by OLAF, that I had already been through all this back in Malta," he said in a brief reference to his 2004 resignation over false allegations of kickbacks. "I told Barroso, 'don't you realise how grave this would be to my reputation and my future? Can't you understand that this would be a death sentence as far as I'm concerned?'

"I asked for 24 hours. He looked at his watch and said 'I'll give you 30 minutes'... I don't think it is normal to fire someone without telling them what you have been [accused of]. I was just like a fly, they dealt with my career just like that. They had everything planned, even a commissioner ready to take my place."

The first thing to suffer, Dalli says, was the Tobacco Products Directive.

"Catherine Day called my staff an hour later, and told them they would be reporting to a different commissioner and that the Tobacco Products Directive was in suspended animation, which meant no more work on the directive."

Dalli's biggest question mark remains the role of Swedish Match and ESTOC in his resignation, whose motivations were given scant if no attention at all by OLAF in its investigation. As the OLAF report shows, ESTOC's secretary-general Inge Delfosse was informed by Swedish Match vice-president Patrik Hildingsson - the chairman of the ESTOC lobby - that Zammit had asked the company for €60 million; and then proceeded to record Zammit when he asked for €10 million from ESTOC. Swedish Match's lawyer Frederik Peyron then informed Michel Petite of the recording, who in turn informed EC secretary-general Catherine Day. 

"There is nothing wrong with people coming with their views, because it gives you time to gather intelligence and come to intelligent decisions. Swedish Match tried to get an appointment with me to explain their point, and when they didn't and saw I was proceeding towards the ban on snus, they started an entrapment process.

"They had their target and wanted to [start] a process to set up their target. Nobody questioned Swedish Match's motivation when they made their report. It is scandalous that they made this allegation and were believed outright, when they had a vast conflict of interest in the matter."
matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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Josanne Cassar
Dalli told Barroso how grave this would be to his reputation and future: "can't you understand that this would be a death sentence as far as I'm concerned?" This is something for which Gonzi and his clique will be remembered: i. e. for ruining people's lifes, mine included!
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Josanne Cassar
Barroso told Commissioner Dalli that he had to leave, that he had press releases to issue by 5pm and that HE HAD A PHONE CALL BOOKED WITH THE PRIME MINISTER TO TELL HIM THAT DALLI IS FINISHED. What did Prime Minister Gonzi have to do with this issue, as if Gonzi was Barroso's boss??? What was Gonzi's involvement in this? Gonzi should provide the Maltese public with an explanation as Malta's name has been put into endless disrepute.
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JOE VELLA
Commissioner John Dalli has gone through alot of suffering. All we can do is offer moral support.
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Yanika Chetcuti
An intricate nest of EU based ferocious taipans, ably aided and encouraged by local versions of black mambas. All IN IT FOR THE DOUGH! NATIONAL OR EU MEMBERS' INTEREST, MY FOOT!!!