OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler set to testify in Zammit bribery case

OLAF chief director-general Giovanni Kessler, accompanied by his team, is expected to take the witness stand in the Silvio Zammit bribery case

OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler
OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler

The director general of the European anti-fraud agency OLAF Giovanni Kessler is expected to take the witness stand in the case against former Sliema councillor Silvio Zammit, accused of bribery in the Dalligate affair.

Kessler, accompanied by his team, is expected in Malta on Tuesday. MaltaToday is informed that Kessler will be aided by Maltese lawyer Tonio Azzopardi. MaltaToday could not reach Azzopardi for a comment.

Kessler has so far ignored a summons to testify in a court of law by videoconference.

Zammit is pleading not guilty to having sought a €60 million bribe from Swedish company Swedish Match and the European smokeless tobacco lobby ESTOC. He is alleged to have requested a bribe to influence former European Commissioner John Dalli to lift an EU retail ban on snus.

Kessler, 56, took centre-stage in the Dalligate affair as the chief of the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF, who made his case - as far as he possibly could given that the matter is now under the Attorney General's review - that Dalli was aware that Silvio Zammit was using his name to extract some sort of bribe.

Last summer, the OLAF chief turned down an invitation to testify in the Privileges Committee over a breach of privilege complaint raised by the Prime Minister, but said he remained available to cooperate with the committee by appearing before it at one of its next hearings.

In his letter, Kessler wrote that Dalli had told someone to convey to him information the Police Commissioner could have him arrested if he came to Malta. “On 19th June 2014, a source known to me informed me that during a meeting which took place on the same day in Brussels, Mr Dalli asked him to convey to me the message not to go to Malta, because I might be arrested there,” Kessler wrote.

Dalli would later clarify that  he had told journalists in Brussels on 19 June that the OLAF chief “might be in trouble” over legal and procedural infringements in the investigation he conducted the Dalligate affair. He insisted that he wanted to confront Kessler in Malta during the privileges committee hearing, and has published a letter he sent to the Speaker of the House on the matter itself.

“I wanted to confront Kessler in Malta and would not have warned him not to come… I requested the Speaker to allow me to confront Kessler when he is testifying in Malta,” Dalli said.

Kessler was formerly an Italian MP from 2001 to 2006 of the Democratic Party (the fusion of the Democratic Left, heirs of the Italian communists, and the Margherita Party) and before that, a Christian democrat.

He comes from a political family, the son of Bruno Kessler, a deputy minister of the interior throughout his career. In 1985, Kessler became a magistrate and between 1995 and 1996, worked in Caltanissetta's anti-mafia directorate in Sicily.

His political career started after a brief appointment as head of the OSCE police and justice mission in Kosovo, from December 1998 to July 1999. From September 2006 till August 2008, he was High Commissioner to combat counterfeiting in Italy.

Kessler said Zammit made repeated requests for the €60 million bribe to reverse a snus ban in the Tobacco Products Directive (he did not spell this out, but the broad outline was shaped by the media and its revelations on the matter) even though John Dalli says this was "unthinkable, political suicide".

But Kessler illustrated his point by saying that had he, by way of example, had been aware that a friend of his was claiming he could get some OLAF investigation spiked by paying a bribe, and did nothing about it, then he would be guilty of trading in influence. The allegation is that Dalli did not act on this knowledge.

On his part, Dalli had told Jose Barroso in a letter he sent in October 2012 that Kessler's remarks may have prejudiced his presumption of innocence.

Kessler’s claims are based on circumstantial evidence of previous meetings which featured both Dalli and Zammit, although there was no direct participation of Dalli in the request for a bribe from Swedish Match.

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