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Kessler: ‘Dalli wanted to lift snus ban’, Dalli accuses OLAF chief of perjury

OLAF chief describes Silvio Zammit as the ‘golden key’ to Dalli

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
18 March 2015, 11:00am
OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler yesterday told a Maltese court that two of John Dalli’s former aides, Joanna Darmanin and Paola Duarte, told investigators probing new allegations on the former commissioner’s Bahamas layover, that he wanted to lift the snus ban.

The interviews with the two aides, Darmanin having been Dalli’s head of cabinet, were deposited in court yesterday in the compilation of evidence against Silvio Zammit, accused of soliciting a €60 million bribe from Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (Estoc).

It was Kessler’s investigation that prompted the resignation of Dalli from Commissioner for health and consumer affairs on 16 October 2012, alleging that Dalli was aware of Zammit’s bribe.

Kessler yesterday said that in an ongoing investigation on Dalli, ostensibly accusations of a trip by private jet to the Bahamas at a time where he could have been alerted to the OLAF investigation by Silvio Zammit, the two former aides said that Dalli, in a formal meeting of the Cabinet, tried to push for lifting the ban on snus.

“The two witnesses, Joanna Darmanin – at the time chef de cabinet of John Dalli – and Ms Duarte gave two interviews, records of which I don’t have with me but can be provided, said that Dalli, on two occasions on 24 January 2012 and 28 February 2012, pushed for the lifting of the ban, or he tried to see what was necessary to do so.”

The Cabinet meetings dealt with amendments to the Tobacco Products Directive that Dalli was discussing at the time.

Kessler yesterday also described Silvio Zammit, a one-time canvasser of Dalli, as “the man with golden key” that gave Swedish Match and Estoc access to what should have been an “inaccessible” commissioner.

Going through an exhaustive chronology of the investigation OLAF carried out between May and September, on instruction by the Commission’s secretary-general Catherine Day, Kessler explained how Swedish Match’s complaint was dealt with.

He said Zammit had already introduced a former Estoc chairman, Tomas Hammargren, to John Dalli while the commissioner was on holiday in Gozo back in 2010.

“According to Article 5 of the WHO Convention on Tobacco, an international treaty, and its guidelines, the contacts between public officials of signatories and representatives of the tobacco business have to be open and transparent,” Kessler said.

But with Zammit actually driving the lobbyist to Dalli, Kessler said that this meeting “was more than ‘bingo’ for Estoc… Hammargren knew very well they could not meet the Commissioner. They would have to filter that meeting with the Commission and meet in a specific room”.

At this point, as Kessler was asked to identify Silvio Zammit in the courtroom, the accused subtly gave the witness the middle finger in a gesture that went unnoticed by the court but was promptly reported on TVM.com.mt.

A key plank in his investigation was hand-written notes allegedly made by Zammit during a meeting he had with Dalli on the 10 February, 2012. His notes, punctuating a list of demands from Swedish Match that was given to him by Maltese lawyer Gayle Kimberley, suggest the content of what was discussed during this meeting.

He said OLAF made no prior invitation to Kimberley for questioning, and that his surprise visit to Troia, Portugal where the lawyer was attending a conference, was necessary to prevent a leak that an investigation on a commissioner was taking place.

“This was an investigation on a very sensitive issue concerning a top commissioner. We were very careful to avoid any leak of this allegation and of this ongoing investigation… that the name of this commissioner goes to the press.

“That is why we didn’t send Kimberley a prior invitation to the interview... there was a high risk that she might have spoken to someone. The main reason was to protect the reputation of the Commission, and the genuineness of the source. If I told her in advance that I wanted to interview her, she would have [manipulated] what she told us.”

Kessler also pointed out that Dalli lied about not holding the 10 February meeting with Zammit, only to admit holding this meeting in a second interview a fortnight after his first encounter with OLAF. “He clarified that they did not speak about snus but about the political situation. This is an important point: we know that Zammit prepared for this meeting with Gayle Kimberley. We had further, indirect confirmation that the meeting took place, because when we received the mobile phone logs at the end of July, we saw that on the 10 February there was a telephone call from Zammit to Dalli, at around 10am and another call an hour later, from Zammit to Kimberley.”

He then said that Zammit met Kimberley and Swedish Match representative Johann Gabrielsson at his Sliema restaurant, where he demanded a €60 million bribe. Shortly after Swedish Match turned down his offer, he restated his offer in a communication with Estoc.

The 11-minute phone call he held with Estoc secretary-general Inge Delfosse was “historically, a turning point for the investigation,” Kessler remarked: after obtaining the telephone call logs for Zammit, they deduced that the accused had called Dalli in between two phone calls he made to Delfosse. The second phone call was recorded by Delfosse.

Kessler says Zammit was cautious not to mention any names, using appellations such as ‘your boss, my boss’. “And then he put forward a price for what ‘he’ was asking. These were the two requests of bribe, to Swedish Match in February and to Estoc in March, made by Zammit.”

Kessler was pressed by defence counsel Edward Gatt to explain how he had linked Zammit’s request to Dalli.

“I understood that in what [Estoc and Swedish Match] told me, there was no doubt in their perception, that the request came from Dalli. Why? Because Zammit presented these requests as coming from Dalli, saying ‘this is the price he is asking’, ‘at the meeting, after the meeting’ – this money was for the commissioner, because it was not Zammit who could change the Commission’s [rules].”

Dalli files perjury report

Former European Commissioner John Dalli has called on the police “to take action”, after accusing the chief of the EU anti-fraud agency of committing perjury.

OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler is in Malta, testifying in the criminal case against Silvio Zammit, accused of having solicited a €60 million bribe from snus manufacturers Swedish Match for the reversal of an EU retail ban on snus.

READ MORE [LIVE] Giovanni Kessler testifies in charges against Silvio Zammit

Reacting to the ongoing Kessler testimony, Dalli said dates mentioned by the OLAF director were “invented to coincide with his theory of meetings”.

“The dates stated by Kessler are invented to coincide with his theory of meetings. But he did not realise that on one of the dates mentioned – 28 February 2012 – not only did I not propose a lifting of the snus ban but I signed off with my Cabinet and SANCO staff, the parameters on which SANCO based its impact assessment which is the first step for the directive,” Dalli said.

The parameters included a ban on snus and all smokeless nicotine products.

“This is documented and can be verified,” Dalli said in a statement. “This is perjury and I expect the police to take action.”

Dalli said he was following Kessler’s testimony “with disgust at the manipulation of facts”.

Kessler this morning told the court that OLAF conducted a separate investigation on Dalli, in which he interviewed two officials from his cabinet.

“Two Commission officials [Joanna Darmanin and Paula Duarte] told us that Dalli, in a formal meeting of the Cabinet, tried to push for lifting the ban on snus, which issue at that time was not controversial,” Kessler told the court. “The two witnesses, Joanna Darmanin and Ms Duarte, gave two interviews, records of which I don’t have with me but can be provided, said that Dalli, on two occasions on 24 January 2012 and 28 February 2012, pushed for the lifting of the ban, or he tried to see what was necessary to do so.”

Dalli said this was “new fabrication purported to be testimony from Joanna Darmanin and Paula Duarte”.

In his email to the Police Commissioner, Dalli said Kessler's testimony was "fraught with selective quotations which have the effect of manipulation of the truth".

"I request that you take appropriate action against Giovanni Kessler.  As he will be leaving Malta today or tomorrow, I would like you to treat this as urgent," Dalli said.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.