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Dalli points fingers at ‘persecutors’ over IHT story, denies multi-million transfer
International Herald Tribune says former commissioner did not disclose July 2012 trip to tax haven on alleged $100 million transfer - OLAF tells IHT it could reopen investigation.
1 July 2013, 12:00am
Updated at 16:45pm with additional comments from John Dalli.
Former European Commissioner John Dalli has denied having carried out a transfer of an alleged $100 million during a trip to the Bahamas between 7-8 July, and another trip on 14 July.
In a telephone call with MaltaToday, Dalli - who resigned in October 2012 after an anti-fraud investigation that alleged he was aware of a multi-million bribe to reverse anti-tobacco laws - said that he possessed no bank account anywhere other than Brussels, where he received his Commission salary, and Malta, where his pension is deposited.
Dalli also denied having transferred any cash to the tax haven of the Bahamas.
International Herald Tribune front page [PDF]
"A journalist from the International Herald Tribune told me that Commission staff were spreading a story about a visit I made in the Bahamas in July 2012," Dalli said from Sweden, where he is addressing a health conference on smoking.
"I explained that I was assisting someone on a voluntary basis to organise a philanthropic initiative. I am currently dedicating time at present, still on a voluntary basis, to conclude the projects that are being set up so that when funds become available, this initiative can be launched. These funds are promised from private sources," Dalli said.
Dalli would not reveal what the project was or whom it belong to. "I am bound by professional secrecy. The project is ongoing and I am still involved in it, and I haven't been paid one single cent for my advice," Dalli said.
The former commissioner also said he failed to "understand the relevance of the inquiry to the termination of his post by EC president José Manuel Barroso" in October 2012.
"In the report sent by OLAF to the president, the anti-fraud agency asserted that no money had ever changed hands between the participants in the snus affair, except for the €5,000 paid by Swedish Match to their Maltese consultant [Gayle Kimberley]," Dalli said.
Asked by MaltaToday what his involvement in the private philanthropic project is, Dalli said that he was asked to give advice on this project and had to visit the Bahamas where a person had offered his trust for the purposes of financing the project. When asked by this newspaper whether this private role conflicted with his role as then-Commissioner, Dalli said that his advice on a philanthropic project was not precluded by the Commissioners' Code of Conduct, the rules that govern EU commissioners.
"As to not declaring the trip, this was a private trip and my cabinet was informed that the trip was made," Dalli said.
Dalli blames instigators for IHT story
Dalli is claiming the origin of the story published by the International Herald Tribune today, is part of an attack meant to influence MEPs ahead of a vote on Wednesday on a report by German member Inge Graessle, on the operations of OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud agency that claimed Dalli was aware of a €60 million bribe to reverse a ban on snus, the chewing tobacco produced by Swedish Match.
Dalli said the story was being instigated by the people who "colluded in the set-up" that led to his termination from the European Commission.
"I will not be intimidated from pursuing Giovanni Kessler, the European Commission and the tobacco lobby," Dalli said in a comment.
"This new batch of conjectures and allegations are nothing but an attempt to damage my reputation. Those who colluded in the set-up that led to my termination from the Commission had tried very hard to achieve this aim though forcing my arraignment by the police in Malta. Evidence of ferocious political interference in this regard, by the administration that was voted out of office last March, is now coming out," Dalli said, referring to elements within the former Nationalist administration whom he accused of having acted as accomplices in the investigation by OLAF that led to his resignation.
"When this did not succeed, the same people are resorting to concocted stories like the one appearing in the International Herald Tribune today. Why today? Is it after the media reports about email exchanges between the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta and 'Dr. GK' on the 15 October 2012, when Giovanni Kessler presented his report to Barroso?" Dalli said - a reference to media reports suggesting that the Maltese government was well aware of the impending OLAF report.
"Is it after the media reports about email exchanges organising blogs against me by the same person involved in the 'Dr. GK' emails? Is it because next Wednesday, an important vote is to be taken by the European Parliament regarding stricter control on OLAF? Is it because presentation was given showing the intrigue that surrounded my case in the European Parliament last Wednesday?"
Dalli says that in July 2012, OLAF was already underway with its investigation, having already interviewed key witnesses. "I do not think there could have been the slightest possibility that money would change hands after that," Dalli told MaltaToday.
The Bahamas trip would have been carried out two days after Silvio Zammit - who stands charged in court of having asked Swedish Match for €60 million to reverse the ban on snus - was questioned in Malta by OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler. According to the OLAF investigation, Zammit called Dalli on 6 July on his mobile phone, where the two spoke for 14 minutes.
"If the information that such rumours are being spread by the Commission staff are true, this will show that the Commission is still intent to cast a shadow on my integrity and are clutching at straws, resorting to these pitiful tactics when all the information that has been uncovered and that is being uncovered, are raising serious questions in many quarters about the handling of this affair," Dalli said.
EU anti-fraud agency OLAF was reported to be considering reopening its case against former European Commissioner John Dalli, after it learnt that he travelled to the Bahamas in July 2012 in a bid to move up to $100 million to the tax haven, the International Herald Tribune has reported today.
The IHT reported that when asked about the previously undisclosed trip on July 7-8 to the Caribbean island, Dalli claimed on the telephone that he had gone to meet unidentified friends and that he returned at least once in the summer to arrange financing for a philanthropic project.
When MaltaToday asked Dalli why he had not disclosed this trip, the former commissioner said that it was "a private trip" and he had informed his Cabinet of the trip. The IHT on the other hand, claims Dalli did not disclose his July trip to the European Commission, quoting an anonymous Commission official who said Dalli instead said he intended to spend the weekend in Malta to see his family.
Barry Connor, the Bahamas resident who rented Dalli's family a villa on the island, told the IHT he recalled being told by Dalli himself that he planned to transfer "large amounts" of money for an unspecified venture, the IHT said. Dalli in turn told the IHT that he was acting on behalf of other people who wanted to set up a trust and that the project was "very personal" and "very confidential". Its purposes, he added, was to help people in Africa.
"The IHT report carries a lot of insinuations," Dalli told MaltaToday. "It is not true that I was trying to move millions of dollars. These millions of dollars did not exist. We discussed the planned philanthropic project which would require some funds management and Mr Barry Conner was suggesting that the trust he had in the Bahamas could be used. I asked how trusts in the Bahamas worked.
"It is also not true that a villa was rented for my family. The villa was rented from Mr Connor by a company managed by my daughter."
The IHT said Dalli specified that he did not have any accounts in the Bahamas.
On his follow-up trip to the islands later in the summer, Dalli stayed in a four-bedroom villa rented at $8,000 a month. The IHT said it had seen a copy of the lease of the villa, Seaview Beach, rented to Claire Gauci Borda, one of Dalli's daughters, on July 14, 2012.
Although the IHT report does not suggest a link between the alleged multi-million transfer and the OLAF investigation, the second Bahamas trip would have taken place two days before Dalli was interviewed by the EU anti-fraud agency.
OLAF, which investigated Dalli in 2012 claiming he was aware of a €60 million bribe to reverse an EU retail ban on snus tobacco, and which led to his resignation, told the IHT that it was not aware of the trip and that it would look into the matter "suggesting it could reopen its investigation."
"As is usual practice, OLAF will duly consider any relevant new evidence, within its remit of competence," the office said.
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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