Former John Dalli canvasser’s human rights breached in tobacco bribery case

A court has ruled that Sliema restauranteur Silvio Zammit had his human rights breached by the Attorney General's refusal to close the evidence against him • Zammit is charged with trading in influence

Silvio Zammit
Silvio Zammit

A man accused of trading in influence and complicity in the request of a €60 million bribe from a Swedish tobacco company had his human rights breached after the Attorney General refused to declare his evidence closed.

The ruling in favour of restauranteur Silvio Zammit was handed down on Friday by the civil court in its constitutional jurisdiction.

Zammit allegedly requested the bribe from snus manufacturer, Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council, a lobby group, to help lift the ban on the chewable tobacco.

Snus is legal in Sweden but is banned under EU law from being sold in other European countries.

The scandal had forced former European health commissioner John Dalli to resign after the European Anti-Fraud Agency, OLAF, claimed the Maltese politician was aware that his name was being used by Zammit.

Zammit, was a one-time canvasser of Dalli.

Dalli, who was at the time of the alleged bribe request responsible for overhauling EU tobacco legislation, has always protested his innocence.

The criminal case against Zammit was filed by the Malta police in 2012 but the Attorney General has so far refused to declare his evidence closed after the last witness refused to testify in the bribery case.

Zammit filed a constitutional reference in 2016, claiming that his case, which had started four years before, had been unnecessarily delayed by the prosecution's refusal to declare its evidence closed.

In his application, Zammit said that the prosecution had declared that the only remaining witness, Inge Delfosse, was refusing to travel to Malta and testify as she risked incriminating herself.

Delfosse was an employee with snus producer Swedish Match.

Zammit’s lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta argued that this was a breach of his right to a fair hearing and that there was no other option but to declare the evidence closed.

The AG argued that the constitutional reference was “premature” and the delays were down to the defence’s decision to file the constitutional case.

The defence had to prove that the delays were capriciously caused by the AG with the intent to place Zammit at a disadvantage, it was argued.

However, the court presided by Judge Anna Felice, observed that it did not need to wait for the conclusion of criminal proceedings against the accused to decide whether the delays would be likely to lead to a breach of his right to a fair hearing.

“The Attorney General’s argument, that Delfosse was refusing to testify is the fault of the applicant who had filed a police report against her in Belgium, is unacceptable,” said the court.

“This in addition to the fact that… Delfosse had already declared that she didn’t wish to testify before the report was made.”

The court ruled that it was up to the AG to determine the way forward.

“Either the AG is going to obtain the deposition of the remaining witness quickly and with the greatest efficiency, or he would have to proceed without her. The compilation of evidence cannot remain stationary indefinitely in the hope that at some point Inge Delfosse is going to testify,” Felice ruled.

The court declared that Zammit had suffered a violation of his right to justice within a reasonable time under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The breach would continue to subsist until the prosecution obtained Delfosse’s deposition or declared its evidence closed.

The case was remitted to the Court of Magistrates for it to continue hearing the evidence in the criminal case.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta appeared for Zammit.

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