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DALLIGATE: the unambiguous circumstantial evidence

An emotional John Dalli believes there is “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” that the OLAF report was a set-up to derail the tobacco directive and that it could have created an opportunity which the Gonzi administration was quick to grasp.

james
James Debono
12 June 2013, 12:00am
John Dalli
John Dalli


Additional reporting by Miriam Dalli

An emotional John Dalli believes there is "unambiguous circumstantial evidence" that the OLAF report was a set-up to derail the tobacco directive and that it could have created an opportunity which the Gonzi administration was quick to grasp. He also drops a couple of local bombshells, giving his reasons for the PN's defeat, while expressing his willingness to be of assistance to both the PN's new leadership and the new Labour government.

The police commissioner and the Attorney General have decided that there are no grounds for your prosecution in front of a Maltese court, on the basis of the content of the OLAF report. What does this mean to you and your family?

For me and my family, this is a great relief. My name has been cleared, and there is nothing that can be brought against me on anything that OLAF concocted in their report, and now I can look forward again and continue to seek justice.

Despite the statement by the Maltese police, on Monday the European Commission insisted that your position in the European Commission was "politically untenable". What is your reaction to this?

The Commission does not have any alternative but to continue to say this. They are saying this was a political decision, because politically Barroso has the right to fire any commissioner at will. The reality is that I have instituted procedures in Luxembourg against Barroso's decision because I always believed that every right comes with a responsibility. I am sure that Barroso's decision was wrong.

Faced with an OLAF report which implicated a Maltese canvasser of yours and which cited circumstantial evidence against you, did Barroso have any other option but to expect your resignation?

The answer to your question is what Green MEP Bart Staes is saying: Why did Barroso not make sure that, when he had such an important issue, the dignity of a commissioner and the whole commission at stake, why did he not make sure that once he had the report in his hand, it had passed through the scrutiny of the supervisory authority, which is set up on purpose to make sure that OLAF works in the right direction, and make sure that things were done in the proper way? I repeat the same question by Bart Staes: Had Barroso had the same opinion of the Supervisory Committee, which we know of today, would he have taken the same decision? With that report in hand, Barroso should have verified as the procedures dictate... that it had gone through all the process of scrutiny.

[In the interview, Dalli also questions the motivations of the OLAF report.]

First of all one has to see how this report developed. Today we have facts in our hands, resulting from the evidence given by Swedish Match personnel, which states that before Swedish Match even made their allegations in writing, their lobbyist Michel Petite was in contact with Catherine Day, the Commission's secretary-general, who is the chief civil servant in Europe. The evidence shows that they communicated with each other, and the first step, to send the allegations to Catherine Day herself, was agreed between them. Therefore they had reviewed the allegations by Swedish Match and probably took a preliminary decision of my guilt before the allegations were even made. This is completely unethical and wrong and exposes the contacts between a lobbyist and a Commission official.

[Dalli also insists that the report was flawed.]

The whole basis of the allegations by Swedish Match, which I still do not have access to, as this was refused by OLAF, were based on a lie. And when he talked to me, Barroso also knew it was all based a lie. This is because the second meeting with Gayle Kimberley on February 10 never happened, as acknowledged in the OLAF report itself. But they still implied, to concoct an idea, that something happened on that date. When one goes through the report, one can see the length they went to stretch situations to come to the conclusion they wanted to make. The OLAF report is like reading something with a preset conclusion and than trying to put a lot of pegs in the holes so that they prove the conclusion that they had already established before.

[The main "lie" which Dalli refers to is the meeting on February 10 with Gayle Kimberley and Silvio Zammit, in which the latter asked for money the moment Dalli left the room.]

This was an invention. This meeting simply did not take place.

Yet you did have a meeting with Gayle Kimberley in January. Would it not have been more proper on your part to register this meeting with this lobbyist?

Not at all, because Kimberley did not come to me as lobbyist. She came to me in the same way as hundreds of other Maltese people who wanted to talk to me. One of the criticisms I receive today is that I am too accessible. But I do not think this is a bad thing for a politician. I am very accessible to everyone. Whoever phones me, I tell him to come to see me, if possible there and than. Therefore when Silvio told me that he had someone who wanted to speak to me, as many other people tell me, I accepted.

[Dalli refers to Kimberley's own declaration that she did not attend the meeting with Dalli as a representative of Swedish Match, a fact which, according to Dalli, was conveniently omitted from the main text of the OLAF report.]

She did not present herself as a representative of Swedish Match. She was not even registered as a lobbyist for Swedish Match. Nobody knew she was working for Swedish Match. I thought she was a lawyer seeking information. What did I have to report if I had no clue that she represented anyone? Should I have reported that I told her that the position of the European Commission was against lifting the ban on snus, as she reported in her own minutes?

[Dalli turns the tables on the Commission at this point.]

There were cases in the Commission where a friend of a commissioner arranged an appointment with the commissioner and somebody else and was paid for it. This is on public record.

OLAF themselves had to state that the decision-making process with regards to the directive was not disturbed in any way... So this is all concoction. They had to say that I never in any way tried to influence my people to go in a certain way. I was always consistent.

[Dalli also refers to OLAF's interview with his director general, in which she stated that the commissioner was always "direct and very consistent" in his dealings with officials.]

[Dalli raises a number of questions himself on Barroso's role in the case.]

OLAF is supposed to be independent. But how many telephone calls did OLAF have from the Commission, including Barroso and Catherine Day, to ask him when it was going to finish with the report? The last telephone call we know of was on 5 October 2012, when Barroso was in Malta attending the 5+5 meeting. What hurry did they have for this report to be finished? Is it because they knew of its conclusions beforehand, and was it because it would have stopped the work on the tobacco directive which I was working on?

What are you expecting from Barroso now?

What I am expecting from Barroso is a statement saying that whatever was done was wrong, and if I don't get it from them, I will get it from the courts. That is why am seeking an annulment of Barroso's decision.

You have often described this to be a set-up aimed at derailing the tobacco directive. Yet the directive was mostly retained by your successor, Tonio Borg, and the process for its approval has continued. Does this not weaken the case for a conspiracy involving EU officials, Swedish Match, the Maltese government and the tobacco lobby to derail the directive? 

On the same day that I was terminated by Barroso, within a few hours my cabinet was called in by Catherine Day, and apart from telling them that they would have to report to a different commissioner, she also told them that the tobacco directive is in suspended animation. Within minutes after the press release announcing my termination was published, Catherine Day writes to Swedish Match informing them that 'action on your report was taken...' They wrote back on the following day, telling her that they hope that their points will be considered.

In my first declaration on 16 October in reply to the Commission, I put the directive at the forefront of the debate. In this statement I expressed the hope that the directive is not derailed. I did this on purpose to put a big problem for those who wanted to derail the directive. I believe that this was the whole objective of the whole case, as shown by the timing of how things proceeded. Fortunately the European Parliament took this up and MEPs started to insist that the directive had to be put on the same timetable as it was before. In fact what happened was that the Commission short circuited the system to make sure that they created the semblance that everything remained the same as before.

What is the situation with regards to the tobacco directive?

The directive is now being discussed in the Council of Ministers, where the nation states are represented. They will come up with some amendments to the directive. This would depend on how strong my successor is to pilot a very strong position on the directive. Finally this will go to parliament where further amendments can be made.

Does the timeline of events suggest that the motivation behind the OLAF report was to derail the directive?

[Dalli recalls that his staff received a letter from Catherine Day and legal services, calling on them to postpone the launch of the directive earmarked for 22 August. If not for the postponement, the directive would be in a far more advanced state than today. In fact they entered into harsh negotiations with the legal services of the Commission.]

One of the changes proposed was the removal of the ban on smokeless tobacco. My question is, will this create a legal case for snus manufacturers to say that they are being treated unfairly? Is this a way of hitting a ball in order to hit another?

[Dalli also recalls that before Catherine Day and legal services wrote to his directorate to stop the launch of the directive in August, they also first phoned OLAF asking whether they were going to conclude their investigation before the summer vacation.]

This was eight days after the investigation started. Do investigations go that fast, or did they assume that what they had discussed when they were meeting with Michel Petite, it would be a fast investigation with set conclusions? Did they ask whether the investigation would be concluded before the summer because they knew I was going to launch the directive on August 22? When the answer was 'no' they decided to ask for a postponement.

Did the snus and tobacco lobby in general gain any time due to the postponements?

We have to see... but many people are sceptical that, by the way things are going, the directive will be finalised during this legislature, which ends next May. This would mean that the whole process would have to start all over again, which means that we would end up waiting for another 5 years.

Was OLAF involved in the set-up, or was it a case of OLAF Chief Giovanni Kessler being overzealous?

With all this happening, there is unambiguous circumstantial evidence on how things were organised.

Did you expect the prime minister at the time, Lawrence Gonzi, to take a different stance on the matter when faced with your resignation?

Lawrence Gonzi simply believed Barroso. What did they talk about when Barroso phoned him on October 16th? Did he raise any questions? Did he ask for proof? Did he ask for a copy for the report? Nobody can tell me that they were careful about the judicial proceedings, because a copy of the report was found in Rita Schembri's residence. Therefore they had a copy of the report. I do not want any beating around the bush. I want answers.

You have declared that GonziPN was involved in the set-up. This is a very serious accusation. In what ways was the Gonzi administration involved?

There is the Rita Schembri case... She was a part of OLAF's Supervisory Committee but also at the same time a part of the investigation. We also know through the Supervisory Committee's report that OLAF came to Malta on a false excuse - that they were scrutinising misappropriation of money, when there was no question whatsoever that any EU funds were involved. Rita Schembri was there, and she is herself part of the Office of the Prime Minister. I would like to know what kind of information was passing between Rita Schembri and people from OLAF.

None of the Maltese MEPs have raised any doubts about this case, even after it was raised by a number of Green and EPP members. What do you make of this?

We were approaching an election... The Nationalist MEPs were simply towing the party line, that of not helping Dalli at all costs, and the Labour MEPs were keeping quiet in case something could be really wrong and they could be in any way smeared because of this. Yet I have to say that I received logistical assistance from two Labour MEPs and I thank them.

Were you surprised that your case was raised by one of your most prominent critics in the GMO case, Jose Bove?

It was support from the most unexpected of quarters, because I'd had a lot of clashes with Bove. But I can say that during the three years in office on this very delicate issue of GMOs, we grew to respect each other... that we have our reasons and Bove knew that I was sincere in trying to make things more accountable and transparent. When I first met Bove, he made it clear that he didn't want to act as my lawyer, all that he wanted to defend was European institutions.

[Dalli also praises German MEP Inge Graessle, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the legal powers of OLAF, who hails from the European People's Party.]

She is not doing any favour to me. She is doing her job and this is why she is taking this issue so much to heart.

You were one of the most Europhile voices in Maltese politics. Has this experience made you more of a Eurosceptic?

Not at all, because the European Union is a concept like democracy is a concept... When someone abuses democracy and takes a ride on it, do you think democracy is a mistake? I don't. When you have someone who misuses the instruments given by an entity of the European Union, which is there to ensure that every one of the 500 million citizens it contains has full respect of their civil rights - if you have one person who happens to be the chief who does not respect those rights, it does not mean that all Europe is wrong.

This is what the fight in the European Parliament is all about. It is not that we have all become Eurosceptics. I am not a Eurosceptic. I am a Europhile. This case taught me one thing: that I have to fight to make sure Europe has cleaned up any possibility of abuse, as happened in my case.

Do you think that you would have faced a fair trial under a PN government?

This is a hypothetical question. I have my opinions on this, which I prefer to keep to myself.

As commissioner, you were replaced by Tonio Borg, who was in his turn replaced as deputy leader by Simon Busuttil, who is now leader. What do you make of this succession of events?

This raises some question in my mind, as I do not think this was a coincidence. An opportunity has been raised and was grasped.

The PN report analyzing the defeat refers to the strained relationship between you and the former prime minister and says that your various declarations harmed the party. How do you react to that?

The declarations I made before the election were repeated by all and sundry in the party after the election. What was wrong was that nobody heeded my declarations. What was wrong was how party stalwarts were being persecuted by the PN friendly media... I said that the party was running a system of political apartheid. The party did not lose because of John Dalli but because of the way the party was being run.

I was not at all happy with what I describe as a funnel economic system we were operating. When I was finance minister for nearly 15 years, as a government we tried our best to democratise the economy and spread the wealth as much as possible.

In the last few years everything was being funnelled to a few people. This is what damaged the party. There was a small group of people running the party for their own ends.

[John Dalli is also irked by the fact that he was mentioned in the report, but nobody made any attempt to approach him.]

Have there been any signs from the newly elected PN leader to heal the wound?

Nobody made any contact with me... as far as politics is concerned I am always available to whoever asks for my assistance.

Would you accept an appointment by the new Labour government?

An appointment is a tall word. But if they ask for my assistance I will give it. The same applies to the new leadership of the Nationalist Party. If it is for the good of the country I am there to help.

Simon Busuttil persuaded his rival in the leadership race, Mario de Marco, to contest as deputy leader. Had Gonzi done the same thing in 2004, would you have accepted?

Exactly the contrary happened in 2004... that is what I can say right now. I will leave that to my autobiography one day...

But would you have accepted an offer to be Gonzi's deputy in 2004?

I would have accepted. And they know I would have accepted. Gonzi knows I would have accepted. 
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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Joseph Borg
Not enough coverage is given at the international media. This will leave the whole case as domestic, with no further developments
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Mr Farrugia, you represent yourself and your beloved PL. 47% of the Maltese population do not share your opinion, amongst them and primarily, the under signed.
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JOSETTE CAMILLERI
Jiena dejjem emmint li dan il-kas kien mahdum bizzilla biex Tonio Borg imur kummissarju, Simon Busuttil jilhaq Vici Kap u wara kap tal-Partit. Xejn inqas u xejn izjed.
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Why be surprised about Barroso and the Commission when it has been found guilty of nepotism and its accounts have not been approved by the Court of Auditors for so many years? I will not be at all surprised that this was a set-up by Barroso-Kessler-Tobacco industry because they were all going to be negatively affected by the tobacco directive and that they were helped by local interests who did not want to risk that their chosen one would make it to the PN leadership of Dalli was allowed to contest the post.
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We all genuinely believed in you, right from the start.And we still do ! Hang on in there always !!!