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Dalligate: A tale of incongruities (and confusion)

When the police under Commissioner John Rizzo failed to charge John Dalli on bribery in the beginning of 2013, the police later under Peter Paul Zammit failed to close the investigation: did Malta’s law enforcement bog down Dalligate?

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
7 July 2014, 7:42am
Commissioner of Police Peter Paul Zammit
Commissioner of Police Peter Paul Zammit
Former commissioner of police John Rizzo said he could not arraign Dalli during the 2013 elections
Former commissioner of police John Rizzo said he could not arraign Dalli during the 2013 elections
The John Dalli case, which has yet again hit the headlines this past week, exposes a number of peculiarities in the way Maltese politicians and the police carry out their business.

The one common factor throughout the two-year saga – starting from the forced resignation of John Dalli over an investigation by OLAF to which he was not granted access to – are the incongruities in police investigations that took place from October to December 2012, and as Malta passed under a new Labour government and a new Commissioner of Police.

This week, the EU anti-fraud office director, Giovanni Kessler, highlighted a number of inconsistencies in the way the police have dealt with the case, amplifying suspicions that the police act according to the whims of politicians, especially those in power. 

Dalli resigned from Commissioner on 16 October 2012, after an OLAF report alleged that there was circumstantial evidence that he was aware of an attempt by an associate of his, Silvio Zammit, to solicit a €60 million bribe from Swedish Match to lift an EU ban on the trade of snus. 

The leaked OLAF report – published by MaltaToday six months after the resignation – later showed that OLAF’s conclusions were based on circumstantial evidence of telephone logs between Dalli and Silvio Zammit, the man accused of soliciting the bribe; and that Dalli could not be identified as having authored a request for a bribe. 

In Malta, Zammit was charged with bribery and trading in influence in December 2012, charges he denies.

Dalli claims he was forced to resign by then Commission President José Manuel Barroso and is seeking to have this overturned, claiming a symbolic one euro in financial compensation.

Dalli, who categorically denies all wrongdoing, has said Barroso called him in and demanded he resign within the half-hour, denying him his request to give him 24 hours.

The former PN minister claimed he was set up by the tobacco lobby in order to delay anti-smoking legislation. 

Investigations

The John Dalli investigations were never a straightforward case for the police. 

While former police commissioner John Rizzo had claimed that there were grounds to arraign Dalli, his successor, Peter Paul Zammit – appointed in March 2013 – first said that there was no case against Dalli and then, according to Kessler, said that the case was not closed.

Zammit’s assurances in the media that no case existed against Dalli led to the former minister being appointed as a consultant on health affairs to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in 2013.

But testifying in court later in that year, John Rizzo – summoned as a witness in the compilation of evidence against Zammit – said that when the case first emerged he had the go-ahead from Attorney General Peter Grech to press charges against Dalli over the alleged bribery.

However, the police failed to press charges against Dalli, with Rizzo claiming in court that the former commissioner had been holed up in Brussels during the ensuing months seeking medical treatment, when Malta was in a prolonged, three-month electoral campaign. 

Although Silvio Zammit’s charge sheet specifically referred to Dalli as the recipient of an alleged bribe, allegedly in return for lifting an EU ban on the sale of smokeless tobacco, the jury is still out as to why Rizzo never proceeded to press charges in December, given his clear mandate from the Attorney General. 

To confuse matters further, in June 2013, Rizzo’s successor, Peter Paul Zammit, told MaltaToday that there was no criminal evidence to arraign or accuse former health commissioner John Dalli. Zammit said that the police investigations in relation to the OLAF report were ongoing, but there was no evidence to incriminate Dalli.

In September 2013, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil latched onto Rizzo’s court testimony to claim that Dalli had availed himself of the change in government of 10 March, 2013 to return to Malta, hinting that Rizzo’s successor planned to cancel the charges against Dalli under political influence from the new Labour government.

This landed the PN leader in hot water as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat raised a breach of privilege complaint against Busuttil.

During a parliamentary debate, Muscat asked Busuttil to withdraw or substantiate the allegation, but the Opposition leader refused to withdraw the allegation and the Prime Minister filed the breach of privilege complaint. 

Busuttil had argued that a series of political actions, mainly the appointment of Peter Paul Zammit as Police Commissioner and the reappointment of the team investigating the Dalli case, led him to deduce that there had been political interference in the case.

However, OLAF director Giovanni Kessler said that on 7 August that Zammit informed him that the investigation had not been closed.

New case

In a letter he sent this week to Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia, Kessler pointed out that on three occasions OLAF asked former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit to collaborate on a new investigation concerning Dalli but OLAF had not received any replies.

“On three separate occasions (on 22 October, 2013, 31 March, 2014, and 6 May, 2014) OLAF requested Mr Peter Paul Zammit to collaborate on a new Olaf investigation concerning Mr Dalli. To this date, and despite the reminders, OLAF has not received any answer by Mr Zammit, although Malta is required by law to cooperate and supply the information required by OLAF,” Kessler said. 

It is not clear what case Kessler is referring to, however the only other known investigation involving Dalli is that concerning his trip to the Bahamas in the summer 2012: a case in which Dalli, as commissioner, would have flown to the Caribbean island and back to Europe without touching ground, to organise a multi-million transfer while Dalli was under investigation on the bribery allegation.

Those are the allegations of Barry Connor, the Bahamas resident who rented out a villa to Dalli on a second visit: Connor alleged that Dalli had told him that he was planning to transfer large amounts of money for an unspecified venture. 

Dalli claimed his first trip to the Bahamas, where he travelled by private jet overnight and returned to Brussels after landing in Nassau, was to discuss the financing of a philanthropic venture with Africa as its target continent.  He later flew to the Bahamas where he stayed in Connor’s villa to meet various entrepreneurs who were organising or providing finance for this African venture. 

Dalli denied holding any accounts in the Bahamas, and said that his work on the project was gratis, later telling the New York Times that he was not involved in the charitable project. 

No closure

Peter Paul Zammit, now the outgoing police commissioner after the government announced this week it will replace him with Ray Zammit, as well as his predecessor John Rizzo, seem largely to blame over the way investigations were carried out in the Dalligate affair.

In the first instance, Rizzo seemed unwilling to charge Dalli under the excuse of his medical condition. In reality, the Nationalist government was under pressure by the end of January when MaltaToday broke the stunning news of the kickbacks that had been paid in fuel procurement supplies from Trafigura to Enemalta, that eventually led to seven men being charged on corruption and bribery in court.

In retrospect, it looks like that under the weight of the embarrassing revelations, arraigning Dalli at the height of the Enemalta scandal would have been tantamount to a vile political smokescreen. Even Silvio Zammit was arraigned the day after the PN government fell when rebel MP Franco Debono voted against the government’s budget.

But then again, questions are still raised as to why Rizzo only chose to arraign Zammit and not Gayle Kimberley, the Swedish Match lobbyist whom OLAF pinpointed as a possible accomplice to the bribe. This still represents one of the great holes in the Dalligate police investigation, which Peter Paul Zammit did little to seal when he reviewed the investigation in mid-2013.

Despite his assertions in the media that no charges would be lodged against Dalli, Zammit was left in the dock to face the charge of a bribe that did not take place; while Kimberley herself was used as a witness against Zammit.

Matters were only made worse last week when OLAF’s Giovanni Kessler said Zammit was not cooperating on his new inquiries into Dalli; giving Opposition leader Simon Busuttil more fuel for his allegations that the ‘politically manipulated’ police commissioner might be protecting Dalli, now a government consultant.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...