John Dalli’s lawyers note Giovanni Kessler conviction in court during attempted bribery case

Lawyers say Kessler’s conviction over illegal wirestrap shows his “true colours”

Italian former prosecutor Giovanni Kessler’s conviction over an illegal wiretap “showed his true colours”, one of the lawyers representing disgraced former EU Commissioner John Dalli has told a court.

The compilation of evidence against Dalli, who is accused of trading in influence and bribery in connection with a €60 million bribe allegedly solicited on his behalf by his former aide, the late Silvio Zammit in return for Dalli overturning an EU-wide ban on snus, continued before Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo on Wednesday.

Dalli denies the charges.

Kessler, who led the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF between 2011 and 2017, had investigated Dalli, commissioner for health at the time, for allegedly requesting a bribe from a Swedish tobacco company in exchange for relaxing the EU-wide ban on snus, a smokeless tobacco. The exemption was granted to Sweden when it joined the bloc 3 years later.

The scandal not only torpedoed Dalli’s career, but Kessler’s too, after a recorded phone call between tobacco lobbyist Inge Delfosse and Dalli’s aide Silvio Zammit was leaked to the press.

When the case resumed on Wednesday, Dalli’s lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell pointed out to the court that Kessler had recently been handed a 1-year suspended prison sentence after being found guilty by a Belgian court of having carried out an illegal wiretap as part of the Dalli investigation.

Tonna Lowell stressed that the Belgian court had commented about Kessler’s “lack of respect towards the authority and the office he held”.

“He got a suspended sentence only because he had a clean criminal record and his age,” submitted the lawyer. Kessler’s one-year prison sentence was suspended for two years.

Tonna Lowell said that the Commission had “protected” Kessler, adding that his immunity had only been waived for a “small fraction” of his alleged crimes.

Delfosse had previously testified to have agreed to be recorded at Kessler’s request, and that she had been briefed by OLAF about what to say to Zammit.

Kessler had insisted that the recorded call had been organised by another OLAF agent and that he had no prior notice of it.

The case will continue later this month.

Inspector Andrew Rotin is prosecuting, assisted by prosecutor Antoine Mifsud Bonnici. Lawyer Stefano Filletti is assisting Dalli.