Silvio Zammit files Belgian privacy complaint over ‘illegal’ recording

Zammit files complaint against ESTOC, Swedish Match, OLAF and European Commission officials over ‘illegal telephone recording’

Silvio Zammit
Silvio Zammit

The man facing criminal charges of having sought a €60 million bribe from Swedish company Swedish Match and the European smokeless tobacco lobby ESTOC, has reported their representatives to the Belgian data protection commission on a breach of privacy.

Silvio Zammit, alleged to have requested a bribe to influence European laws on the ban on smokeless tobacco snus, was told by the office of the Belgian privacy commissioner that the recording of his private conversation with ESTOC secretary-general Inge Delfosse could be illegal.

ESTOC is chaired by representatives of Swedish Match and is based in Belgium, where Delfosse recorded two private conversations with Zammit, the second one under request by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud agency that conducted an investigation into the bribery allegation.

Citing the Belgian Privacy Act, an advisor for the CPP (Commission for the protection of privacy), told Zammit that data subjects had to be informed before a private conversation is recorded.

"Privacy Act controllers have to provide data subjects with information on the conditions of the processing, at the latest at the time the data are obtained. The obligation relates to controllers' name and address, the purposes of the processing, the existence of data subjects' rights to access/rectify the data and the right to oppose to the processing. The recipients of the data must also be communicated to data subjects."

Zammit has now filed a formal complaint to the Belgian CPP, against the chairman and directors of ESTOC, Inge Delfosse, Swedish Match's vice-president Fredrik Peyron, and also OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler and OLAF personnel, and the European Commission.

Zammit told the CPP that on 29 March 2012, Delfoss recorded a telephone conversation without his knowledge, as has been confirmed in the OLAF report investigating the alleged bribe and its connection to influence smoking laws being spearheaded by former EU Commissioner for health and consumer policy John Dalli.

The telephone recording was later passed on to Swedish Match's Fredrik Peyron, as revealed in the OLAF report, to pass it on to Michel Petit, formerly the head of the European Commission's legal services, who at the time of the recording was acting as a lobbyist for tobacco company Philip Morris, as an employee of Clifford Chance lobbyists.

Zammit alleges that the recording was made with the aim of framing him.

The OLAF report also reveals that Delfosse provided a copy of the call to OLAF employee Eduardo Cano Romera, and that he found out of this recording and its transcript during an interview with OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler in Valletta on 4 July 2012.

He said Kessler denied him the right to listen to this recording or consult its transcript.

A second telephone occurred on 3 July 2012, this time by Delfosse on instigation of OLAF personnel. Zammit says the call was deliberately placed so that he can be entrapped.

He also told the CPP that the OLAF supervisory committee states that his fundamental rights were violated during the investigation.

"These recordings... have been used to incriminate me of something which I didn't say or do. My reputation, my business, and my health are now very critical because of all this. Someone must be held responsible for all this," Zammit told the CPP.