After OLAF leak, Kessler says his office’s independence is at stake

“OLAF has done a fair, thorough investigation” - OLAF director Giovanni Kessler

OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler
OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler

Giovanni Kessler, the head of the European Union's anti-fraud agency OLAF, has rejected criticism over an investigation that prompted the resignation of former health commissioner John Dalli, insisting their work was "fair, thorough".

His comments to Deustche-Presse Agencie come in the wake of a leak of the OLAF report by MaltaToday, which led MEPs to accuse the OLAF chief of having conducted an amateurish investigation that led to the dismissal of former commissioner for health John Dalli.

The Maltese commissioner was forced to resign on 16 October over allegations that he was aware that Silvio Zammit, a canvasser of his, had been using his name to solicit a €60 million bribe from Swedish Match in a bid to lift a ban on the sale of snus on the internal EU market.

OLAF has no clear evidence that Dalli had colluded in the scam, but Kessler referred to "unambiguous and converging circumstantial evidence" suggesting that the commissioner knew what was going on.

"We are not accusing him (Dalli) of a crime," Kessler told dpa. "Being aware isn't a crime. But it is something to consider from an ethical point of view. What is indisputable here is enough for a commissioner to resign," he said, pointing out that the EU's executive had made a political, not a judicial decision.

Dalli has denied all the charges, and so far Silvio Zammit rests charged with trading in influence, bribery and money laundering the Maltese courts. Another witness whom OLAF said could have participated in the alleged bribery, Swedish Match's own lobbyist Gayle Kimberley, earlier this week denied in court having been party to the attempt.

"The trial is in the (European) Parliament and the newspapers," Kessler told dpa. "There is a risk that the parliament... is becoming a court. It is very dangerous," he said, charging that confidential documents were being leaked selectively to make the case against OLAF. "I haven't participated in this game," Kessler - who last week told the European Parliament's budgetary control committee that the Maltese authorities should publish the OLAF report to quell any speculation on the investigation - said.

Kessler has been accused by MEPs of having taken a personal interest in the investigation, instigating third parties to record a telephone call without prior notice of the subject, and more curiously, taking witness Gayle Kimberley out to lunch after having interrogate her for some five hours.

Kessler argued, however, that he had the ultimate authority over any investigation, and said it could be "intimidating" for his staff to confront Dalli. "It is also disrespectful to the commissioner," he added.

OLAF's speculation that Dalli might have been aware of the bribery attempt comes from a list of telephone exchanges between Dalli and Zammit, on the day that the latter requested a hefty bribe from a tobacco industry representative.

Kessler said the accusations had serious repercussions, after an instance in which the "mechanism of the EU reacting to the pollution of EU institutions... has worked well."

"The independence of OLAF is at stake," Kessler said. "OLAF has done a fair, thorough investigation. We knew perfectly that everything we have done and written would be deeply scrutinized. The commission reacted in the only possible way."

More in Dalligate
Hello Mr Kessler, and what about the original copy of the Olaf report found in the residence of your ex collegue Rita Schembri? Is it decent, such a delicate report had to be found by the police? Shame on both of you.
It not Kessler Office but Kessler himself should resign he manipulated the report Got Kimberly to lie and framed J.Dalli Shame on him
Mr.Kessler,if you have done the investigation that prompted the resignation of Mr John Dalli from EU Health Commissoner legally and with fairness,how come that there is an outcry for your resignation from various European sectors and MEP's ?