Dalli: ‘Barroso was against the Tobacco Products Directive’

Former European Commissioner John Dalli testifies in compilation of evidence against Silvio Zammit, charged with soliciting bribe for reversal of EU retail ban on snus tobacco

John Dalli told a court that EC president José Barroso may not have wanted him to pursue the Tobacco Products Directive review
John Dalli told a court that EC president José Barroso may not have wanted him to pursue the Tobacco Products Directive review
Former head of legal services Michel Petite (right)
Former head of legal services Michel Petite (right)
Patrik Hildingsson
Patrik Hildingsson

Former European Commissioner John Dalli said that EC President José Manuel Barroso was “against the Tobacco Products Directive”, an impression he got when he had met him on 8 November, 2011.

The former commissioner, whom Barroso asked that he resign in October 2012 following an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF, took the stand in the compilation of evidence against Silvio Zammit, accused of soliciting a €60 million bribe from the company Swedish Match and the European smokeless tobacco council (ESTOC) in a bid to lift the EU retail ban on snus tobacco.

His testimony lasted over an hour.

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“I met Barroso to discuss issued related to my office [health], as well as the tobacco regulations. Barroso was against the tobacco directive, and he wanted me to set it aside. Thousands were affected by smoking every year. As the person responsible for European health, I could not overlook this. Barroso said that his legal services and advisors had urged him against pursuing the directive.”

Dalli had pursued strict rules banning not only characterizing flavours for tobacco products, but also larger health warnings on cigarette packets and a controversial move to make e-cigarettes into pharmaceutical product requiring regulatory approval.

Dalli told the court that Michel Petite, formerly the head of the Commission’s legal services, could have influence the views of the Commission.

“As soon as he quit his job, Petite was employed with the tobacco industry,” Dalli said, referring to Petite’s job as a lobbyist for Clifford Chance, who represent tobacco giants Philip Morris – company affiliates of Swedish Match for snus products in the USA.

“Barroso suggested shelving the TPD as his legal services were raising many legal issues... My services had informed me that since Petite had come on the scene as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, the legal services were changing the opinions that they had given earlier to DG-SANCO. As the former head of legal services, he was one of the triumvirate that ran the Commission with Barroso and Secretary0General Catherine Day. Therefore he was very close with them.

“Twice, Barroso appointed him on an ad hoc board in connection with ethics regulations, and was only removed from office after a recommendation from the European Ombudsman.”

He later said during the court hearing that Petite and EC secretary-general Catherine Day "had a good friendship... they used to discuss ways of how to eliminate me."

"If I had given in to Barroso, I would not be here today," Dalli said.

On 28 February, 2012 Dalli said he concluded all talks with stakeholders in the tobacco rules, following which a meeting with the tobacco industry was held on 7 March, and then on 27 March an impact assessment by DG-SANCO (health directorate general) was presented to the Commission’s impact assessment board.

“The regulations were set to be launched on 22 August… After the OLAF investigation started, two months later Barroso's cabinet was asking OLAF whether they will be concluding the investigation. On 25 July, after being informed that the investigation was not yet concluded, Catherine Day and the director of legal services wrote to DG-SANCO complaining that the directive was riddled with issues and demanded a postponement of the regulation. The directive was put off to the end of September.”

Dalli said that EC secretary-general Cathering Day wrote to DG-SANCO requesting a further postponement, as the European Council was scheduled to meet during that month and that she did not want hot issued on the agenda. The regulation was again postponed to October.

“I was then ‘murdered’ on the 16 October, and the regulation was put into suspended animation a week later.”

Dalli also claimed in court that Barroso when he met Lawrence Gonzi during his visit to Malta on 5 October 2012, for the 5+5 meeting, hie cabinet was asking OLAF when the investigation would be completed.

He said that on 11 October, OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler had asked his staff for a meeting for November to conclude the investigation. “I have information that the subject line of the correspondence was ‘dead body’.”

He also said that on 15 October, at 2:30pm, the OLAF report was handed over to Barroso when on the day earlier, an OLAF official had informed Swedish Match that a press conference was to be held on 17 October.

Dalli said that during his meeting with Barroso on 16 October, the EC president refused to show him the OLAF report, saying that it was secret and confidential. “He held it close to his chest and denied me the report. I asked him to give me 24 hours to seek advice, and he gave me 30 minutes to leave. He said, ‘unless you quite, I will fire you. I have a scheduled phone call with the prime minister and two press released are already set’.

“I asked him to put my termination in writing. He sent me a resignation letter which I never signed. Then on 17 October, Kessler held a press conference, where he attempted to ridicule me with total disregard to the presumption of innocence and his obligation for confidentiality.”

He said the tobacco directive was now in effect, “but it has no resemblance to the regulation that I wanted to institute.”

Zammit-Kimberley meeting

He described Zammit as a “staunch PN activist” who had canvassed for his election on the tenth (Sliema) district in 2008. “We met regularly, much as I met others who worked with me politically.”

Dalli also recounted the meeting he held with Gayle Kimberley, the Maltese lawyer who was appointed by Swedish Match to lobby the commissioner on the Tobacco Products Directive he was spearheading.

He said that Zammit asked him to meet Kimberley on the 6 January. “I met her. She was a young lawyer trying to get clients. She requested some information that we discussed. In her report to Swedish Match, she specifically states that she did not present herself as a representative of Swedish Match, a fact that Kessler hid from his report… Kessler made a huge fuss about this meeting, building the case on the fact that I had met a tobacco lobbyist.”

Dalli also said that he had previously met another lobbyist – Tomas Hammargen from ESTOC – through Zammit. “I was always accessible to the public in my political life.”

He denied allegations of a meeting held on 10 February 2012 with Kimberley and Zammit, which alleged meeting was reported by Kimberley to a Swedish Match director. “This meeting never took place. What happened was that Zammit met me for 10 minutes to inform me that he had been finally accepted as a candidate with the PN for the local elections, as before he was having problems."

Zammit went on to run for the local elections in Sliema, where he was elected deputy mayor before resigning in October 2013.

Dalli also questioned why Patrik Hildingsson, a vice-president of Swedish Match, had asked his employees to severe all relations with Zammit, but only told ESTOC secretary-general Inge Delfosse (Hildingsson was the chairman of ESTOC) on 15 March to “simply be wary of him”.

According to the OLAF report, Hildingsson gave the order to stop communicating with Zammit after the latter asked Johan Gabrielsson for a bribe; he then learnt on 15 March that a similar offer was being made to Inge Delfosse.

“The following day on 16 March, Delfosse not only disobeyed her chairman’s orders, but emailed Zammit saying ‘we are hearing a lot of worrying rumours. Kindly set up a meeting with John and tell me how much I need to pay you’. They offered him money. Was this a genuine offer or was it a trap?” Dalli asked in court.

“She did an illegal recording of a phone conversation with Zammit, in which she constantly referred to me as ‘John’ as if we were on first-name terms.”

John Rizzo interrogation

Dalli described OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler as “melodramatic, pompous, and theatrical” but that “he was never rude with me” in interviews he had with him throughout 2012.

In Malta, after the OLAF report was passed to the Attorney General and then to the police for investigation, Dalli was questioned by Commissioner of Police John Rizzo.

“Rizzo claimed it was only a coincidence that my interrogation was held the same day that [successor] Tonio Borg was being grilled by the European Parliament, because he could not reach me before,” Dalli said.

At this point, Dalli was told by Zammit’s defence counsel, Edward Gatt, that Rizzo had told the court he wanted to arraign Dalli in connection with the case.

“My relations with Rizzo date back to the 2004 investigation into Joseph Zahra. This was the first attempt to put me in prison,” Dalli replied, citing the case of the private investigator who falsely alleged that Dalli had received kickbacks on a medical tender. “In two weeks, Rizzo managed to get an admission from Zahra that his allegations were false, and Zahra was later imprisoned. Today I ask, why did Rizzo stop with Zahra and did not pursue the investigations on those who were behind him?

“I gave Rizzo information on internet blogs and rumours about me being spread online. He said he had no equipment to investigate this information. Following a complaint by my lawyer, Rizzo said, ‘do you expect me to investigate the computers at the Office of the Prime Minister?’

“He was constantly shouting and screaming during my interrogation, referring to me as ‘John’ and ‘Johnny’ – a confidence we never shared – and then made me sleep in the lock-up."

Asked about Rizzo's statement that he had discussed money with Zammit, Dalli said that this was a lie and that he never discussed money with Zammit on this issue or on any other issue. Asked about Rizzo's statement that he wanted to arraign him, Dalli stated that Rizzo could have arraigned him, but he never did.

Dalli also said that OLAF officials had told a Swedish Match director Johan Gabrielsson to reiterate that the 10 February meeting with Kimberley had taken place, in order not to disturb the investigations of the Maltese police. “Did Rizzo base his investigation on a lie? He has also said that he was under pressure from parliament: was this the pressure received when the Nationalist government fell on 10 December, and who made this pressure?”