Court reaffirms decree for prosecution to conclude evidence in Silvio Zammit bribery

Defence team vociferously argued that Constitutional Court ruled Zammit's right to a fair hearing had been breached by delays

A court today ruled that there were sufficient grounds to place restauranteur Silvio Zammit under a bill of indictment
A court today ruled that there were sufficient grounds to place restauranteur Silvio Zammit under a bill of indictment

Silvio Zammit is a step closer to being indicted for trading in influence, after a court today reaffirmed a previous ruling there were sufficient grounds to place the restaurateur under a bill of indictment.

Zammit is charged with having solicited a €60 million bribe from the European smokeless tobacco lobby (Estoc) and the company Swedish Match to influence former European Commissioner for health John Dalli to reverse a retail ban on snus, a chewing tobacco sold in Sweden. The scandal had led to the resignation of John Dalli from the EC, who is now still pursuing a civil claim against the EU anti fraud agency OLAF for €1 million in damages.

Several months ago the court of Magistrates had already made the ruling of prima facie, but due to the court's failure to observe legal time limits, the court had to give its decree of prima facie again.

The ruling was met with silence by the defence team who had earlier today vociferously argued that the Constitutional Court had ruled that his right to a fair hearing had been breached. In comments to MaltaToday, defence lawyer Edward Gatt explained that he had been surprised by the fact that the court had once again failed to declare what it was going to do with the Constitutional Court judgment which stated that Zammit's rights were being breached by the delays.

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As the sitting began this afternoon, Gatt had asked the court to take a stand after the Attorney General requested another five days to decide whether to summon more witnesses. The compilation of evidence against Zammit started in December 2012, but since then several witnesses, including Estoc secretary-general Inge Delfosse, had not been produced to testify in court and to be counter-examined by the defence.

“The AG either isn’t understanding or doesn’t want to understand. The issue of vital importance is what is the AG going to do with the Constitutional judgment that says he is breaching Zammit’s rights with every day that passes... Everyone is not giving a damn. What does the AG want to do?” asked the lawyer angrily.

Magistrate Astrid May Grima replied that the court was simply following procedure. “The ball is in your court. You cannot allow the AG to continue to treat us this way,” Gatt told the magistrate.

Asked to confirm his name and address Zammit, 54, from Sliema, answered in a low voice. “I’d like to shout but in here I cannot,” he quipped when told by the court to speak up.

Zammit’s lawyers are accusing the AG of dragging his feet with regards to this case, especially in view of the recent Constitutional ruling that the delay in proceedings are in breach of Zammit’s rights. The prosecution is insisting on hearing the testimony of Inge Delfosse, who is refusing to come to Malta to testify to avoid incriminating herself, before declaring their evidence closed.

After retiring to chambers for a few minutes, the magistrate emerged and issued her decree of prima facie, meaning that the court had seen sufficient grounds for a bill of indictment to be issued.

The case will continue on 15 November.