Dalligate lobbyist recalls OLAF ambush in Portugal and Kessler offer of dinner

Lobbyist Gayle Kimberley was intercepted during a conference in Portugal by OLAF director Giovanni Kessler and pressured into being questioned in a hotel room

OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler
OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler

Gayle Kimberley, the lobbyist appointed by Swedish Match in 2012 to secure access to former EU Commissioner John Dalli, has recalled in court how she had been “ambushed” by then-OLAF director Giovanni Kessler and two other officials when attending a conference in Portugal.

As Kimberley took the stand in Magistrate Caroline Farruga Frendo’s courtroom, her lawyer Giannella De Marco requested, and obtained, confirmation from the prosecution that no criminal charges would be made in Kimberley’s regard.

Kimberley had been named as a person of interest by the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF in its report where it identified her, as well as the late Silvio Zammit, a restaurateur who canvassed for Dalli, and Dalli himself, as liable to be charged on the alleged €60 million bribe requested from Swedish Match.

Zammit died before the termination of the charges against him, filed in late 2012; and Dalli has only started to face charges on the alleged bribery recently.

Swedish Match had been asked for the payment by Zammit, as a way of convincing Dalli to overturn a European retail ban on their ‘snus’ chewable tobacco, while reviewing the Tobacco Products Directive.

Kimberley was formerly a European Commission administrator, before returning to Malta in 2010 to work for the lotteries regulator. She was appointed to lobby for Swedish Match by Johan Gabrielson, husband to her old colleague from her time at the European Council,

“‘I have an interesting project and heard that someone can arrange a meeting with the EU Commissioner responsible for tobacco laws’, he had said,” Kimberley told the court, referring to John Dalli. “There was a practice of lobbying with Commissioners in Brussels by stakeholders, during discussions which would help ensure an informed decision.”

Swedish Match was seeking the lifting of the retail ban on snus, which could only be sold IN Sweden.

Gabrielsson was already aware of Zammit, who sold snus products under-the-counter to Swedish customers, and who had met Swedish Match officials previously. He said Kimberley should meet up with him to organise a meeting with Dalli. Kimberley stated that she knew Iosif Galea, a colleague at the lotteries authority (now Malta Gaming Authority), who had dealt with Zammit.

Kimberley said Gabrielsson briefed her later in Malta about new scientific evidence which weakened the scientific basis for snus being linked to cancer, and that the ban had created parallel trade from America, which was damaging competition.

OLAF investigation

When the OLAF investigation was kick-started after a complaint filed by Swedish Match over the bribe Zammit had requested (namely, to a representative of the European smokeless tobacco lobby), Kimberley was intercepted by then-OLAF head Giovanni Kessler at a Portugal conference.

“I was ambushed and put into a room. There were three of them,” she said. “We are here from Brussels and if you do not cooperate you know what will happen. You are a public officer… you are being interrogated as a witness.”

Kimberley added that she had no legal assistance during the subsequent questioning. Her lawyer Steven Tonna Lowell asked the witness whether she had been free to leave the room. “I think I could have… but I was under the impression that I would lose my job [if I did],” she replied. Asked whether she had been intimidated, she described one of the men there as “quite imposing”.

“He had wanted to see my computer and files about meetings with the LGA (lotteries and gaming authority),” she said. The man had then instructed someone to type up a report about the six-hour meeting.

After that, Kimberley was taken out for an informal dinner with Kessler, and accepted some wine that had been offered “for me to relax a bit”.

Kimberley told the court that she had signed a statement before having read it all out. “We had been having dinner on an island and were in a rush to catch the last ferry, so there was no time to read the statement before signing. I was sent a copy, a few days later, and I had asked to amend some parts where I hadn’t been quoted correctly…

“He was not happy about this,” she said, and so she had suggested that future questioning sessions be recorded, which was the practice subsequently followed.

The case was adjourned to May 31.

AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Anthony Vella are prosecuting together with police inspector Andy Rotin. Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Stephen Tonna Lowell are Dalli’s defence counsel.