‘Trust me, I’m Italian…’

Unlike Mr Kessler, we are not Italian, but Maltese… and being Maltese and not Italian, we are therefore somewhat less immediately familiar with ‘how these things work’ than the OLAF director.

OLAF director Giovanni Kessler
OLAF director Giovanni Kessler

That, believe it or not, is a direct quote attributed to Mr Giovanni Kessler - director of Europe's anti-fraud agency, OLAF - by a witness in the ongoing case against Silvio Zammit.

Yes, yes, I know his surname is not actually Italian at all (though mine is: weird, innit?) But I can assure you Mr Kessler is indeed every bit as Italian as he claims to be... and as he casually told Gayle Kimberley during a seven-hour interrogation in a Portugal hotel: "I'm Italian, and I know how these things work..."

Hmm. Sorry to profess my ignorance, but: I'm not Italian - even though both sides of my family could make that claim, at least until around a century ago - so unlike Kessler I have absolutely no idea what 'things' he was talking about: still less how they're supposed to 'work'.

What was it, exactly, that prompted the director of Europe's anti-fraud agency to entreat Ms Kimberley to place her 'trust' in him?

Well, it seems the answer has much to do with a presumed 'danger' posed to her person by Messrs John Dalli and Silvio Zammit... at a time when the former was still European Commissioner for Public Health (a fact which immediately places him in the 'potential rapist/murderer' category, I'm sure you'll agree); and the latter was his erstwhile Sliema canvasser, whom nobody has ever taken seriously in his own country... still less in Brussels or Portugal.

But hey! That's only because, unlike Mr Kessler, we are not Italian, but Maltese... and being Maltese and not Italian, we are therefore somewhat less immediately familiar with 'how these things work' than the OLAF director.

Honestly, though. Who would have ever guessed that 'Italian' was such a useful thing to be? Unlike the rest of us common mortals out here - but not unlike a certain Superman from the Planet Krypton - Italians are apparently endowed with a unique 'X-Ray vision' ability, that enables them to see directly through an external veneer of harmlessness, and to instantly detect any underlying potential for murder and ultra-violence.

So never mind that, on the face of things, Silvio Zammit looks about as threatening as one of the Teletubbies (the one with the handbag; you'll forgive me I can't remember the name right now) having just overdosed on Prozac. Kessler's eagle eyes can cut right though such superficial impressions, and expose horrors that are invisible to the rest of us ordinary folk. So unlike anyone with any actual knowledge of Silvio Zammit - for instance, people who were born and raised in Sliema (Zammit's home town), and who remember him when he still had an Imqaret stall on the Front - Kessler can instantly recognise him for the cold-blooded killer he truly is.

And thus armed with this instinctive ability - common to all Italians, it would seem - to distinguish good from evil at a cursory glance, Kessler proceeded to fill Gayle Kimberley's impressionable mind with paranoid visions of Mafia hit-men lurking around every corner, just waiting for the right moment to strike. And curiously, he also advised her to keep quiet about the 'fact' that at least two people from her home country wanted nothing more than to kill her dead at the earliest possible opportunity.

Exactly why this was deemed to be good advice, when her life was supposed to be in dire peril, is anybody's guess really. I would have thought a man like Kessler would advise her to go directly to the police... but then again, what do I - who am but dust and ashes, and not Italian in anything except name and genetic provenance - know of such matters? Either way, Gayle Kimberley (who is not Italian either) chose not to follow his advice. Let's just say that Giovanni Kessler so successfully scared the living daylights out of that woman, that she eventually told her husband... who decided to go and check out this 'danger' for himself.

But alas! Her husband was about as Italian as I am, if not less! So just like the rest of us easily bamboozled foreigners, all he saw when he went to confront his wife's would-be assassin was... well, Silvio Zammit. And I imagine he would have looked every inch as terrifying as when I casually walked past him just the other week. (There he sat, on the porch of a rather prominent St Julian's hotel, having a quiet cappuccino in full view of practically all Spinola Bay. Strange, how nobody panicked at such an absolutely hellish vision... my only explanation is that there can't have been any Italian tourists out and about at that particular moment....)

But back to the matter at hand. As we all saw from Gayle Kimberley's testimony this week, Kessler himself either sincerely believed that Silvio Zammit really was an unscrupulous Mafia hitman of the sort that (let's face it) so clearly suited the purposes of the OLAF investigation at the time... or for whatever reason, he wanted Gayle Kimberley to believe he was.

And let's face it: you don't exactly need to be Italian to know that a witness in fear for her life might be slightly more amenable to persuasion than a witness without a care in the world.

But still: as any Italian would instinctively know, 'fear', on its own, cannot always be made to work ... especially when the object of one's unbridled terror just happens to be a local circus promoter (some would say 'clown') whom everybody is this country has at one point or other made fun of: including a bunch of mostly teenage anti-circus protesters, who were so utterly petrified of Silvio Zammit that they had no compunction insulting him directly to his face... for which affront 'Mr Terrifying' sued them for libel.

So just to make sure things worked out exactly the way OLAF wanted them to work out, Giovanni Kessler did what lots of other Italians would also have done when in the company of a much younger, startled and clearly unnerved companion of the female gender. He took her out to lunch... and got her drunk.

OK, exactly how 'drunk' he got her can only be surmised at this point. One possible indication was the fact that Gayle Kimberley, by her own admission, "threw up" shortly afterwards... but let's face it, that could just as easily be put down to the trauma of the seven-hour interrogation.

She did however admit feeling "woozy from the lunch" - great word, by the way... though how on earth one would translate that into Italian is another question - and had to go back to the hotel for a lie-down.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that we were not told exactly what Kessler did while the young woman he wined and dined had her little lie-down in her hotel-room... and I won't ask the question myself, at least not for now. (I am told some people are already asking it in Brussels, though. And while they may not themselves be Italian, let's just say there are a few other European nationalities out there which also have a vague idea how certain things work).

There is, however, a small question I'd like to ask at this point. Is it normal for a European anti-fraud official to take such in-depth interest in someone who is effectively a potential witness in a case that might (and eventually did) bring down a European Commissioner? Enough of an interest to take her out on what was effectively a lunch date?

And besides: why, exactly, would the same Kessler be so keen that Gayle Kimberley kept the details of this little escapade such a secret? Was he worried that people might read more into that particular detail than he actually wanted to emerge?

But the most important question is another. Is it standard practice for someone in Kessler's position to so cavalierly inform a witness that she can sign a statement today... but don't worry if there are any inaccuracies, because there'll be plenty of time in future to change it? [In case you find this detail hard to digest, this is how Kimberley's testimony was reported in The Times: "After lunch they returned to the interrogation room and Dr Kessler asked her to read the statement quickly as he wanted to catch a boat. He told her to sign the statement and not to worry as she would be able to correct it later."]

So never mind if it later transpired that Gayle Kimberley hadn't really had those two meetings with Commissioner Dalli after all... that she only claimed to have the second meeting in order to 'justify her fees' to her clients. None of this is actually important in the long run.

Actually, now that I think about it properly... who the heck cares if the statement signed by Kimberley immediately after that lunch date contained even an iota of truth or not? Don't forget that Kessler is Italian. He knows 'how these things work'. So "the truth" can actually be defined as what Giovanni Kessler himself, in his Latin omniscience, wants it to be in any given situation... regardless whether the facts on the ground corroborate that particular version of events or not.

And besides, does it really matter if one version contradicts another? All that can easily be amended at a later stage... several times over, in fact... and for this, we now have the word of Giovanni Kessler himself. 'Sign today, correct tomorrow'. That, it seems, is the Italian way of handling such matters... and also the European Union's way, seeing as the OLAF report which contains all the 'evidence' against Dalli has still not been published all these months after his resignation... despite the many enormous doubts and question marks that have since emerged.

The only important thing about Giovanni Kessler's seven-hour interrogation of Gayle Kimberley (followed by 'pranzo' and 'molto vino' at a nearby 'trattoria') , it seems, is this: that she never, ever told anybody about it afterwards. Because, you see, if what really happened were to suddenly emerge... well, people like myself who are not Italian (and who might therefore have different opinions on the seriousness of the bribery attempt by Silvio Zammit... not to mention about the 'danger' this human teddy-bear was supposed to represent to Gayle Kimberley, or anyone else) might conceivably start asking uncomfortable questions.

Heck, they might even ask themselves why the director of the European anti-fraud agency would go to such extraordinary lengths to manifestly distort the truth... lengths which we now know included actively encouraging a witness to present a woefully incomplete picture of what really happened between herself, Silvio Zammit and Swedish Match: with results that forced a European Commissioner out of office, over what now looks like nothing more than a blatant fabrication.

And all for what purpose, I hear you ask? Well... how the heck should I know? It's not as though I'm Italian, or anything. So I have absolutely no idea "how these things work..."

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