Updated | Dalli says Rizzo wanted to press charges despite ‘OLAF falsity’

OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler asked to testify in privileges committee on 15 October

Former police commissioner John Rizzo led the Dalligate investigations in Malta
Former police commissioner John Rizzo led the Dalligate investigations in Malta

Former Commissioner of Police John Rizzo told MPs in the privileges committee today that he wanted to arraign John Dalli, the former EU Commissioner, on charges of trading in influence, but that he was unable to conduct a final interview with him because Dalli was abroad seeking healthcare.

Rizzo told MPs – who are hearing a breach of privilege complaint raised by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat against Opposition leader Simon Busuttil – that it was Muscat who ordered him to step down from his post.

Busuttil has accused Muscat of having politically “interfered” in the investigation surrounding Dalligate, by allegedly telling Rizzo’s successor Peter Paul Zammit to declared that there was no evidence against Dalli.

Dalli resigned on 16 October, 2012, after being presented with the covering letter of a report by EU anti-fraud agency OLAF, claiming he was aware of a €60 million bribe that had been solicited by a canvasser, Silvio Zammit, to reverse an EU retail ban on snus tobacco.

Rizzo led the investigations on Zammit and Dalli, after the OLAF report was handed to the Maltese attorney general.

He said that it was agreed with Attorney General Peter Grech that criminal action should be taken against Silvio Zammit and John Dalli.

Zammit was charged in mid-December 2013 with charges of bribery and trading in influence.

He said he was unable to charge Dalli, who was abroad and unable to travel because he was sick. Dalli returned in later March 2013, after Labour was returned to power, and Rizzo was replaced as Commissioner of Police on 12 April.

Rizzo relayed similar declarations he made as a witness in the compilation of evidence against Zammit, saying that the Malta police investigated the case so as not to rest on the OLAF findings alone.

Rizzo said Dalli was to be accused of trading in influence because he was aware that Zammit had solicited the bribe.

The former police chief said he felt it was “not ethical” to arraign Dalli in his absence during the general election, then in full swing, on such serious charges.

He denied having been directed by politicians on how to carry out the investigation. He said any “pressure” from politicians was coming from statements made in the House and media reports.

Rizzo said Muscat asked him to step down after 12 years as Commissioner of Police, and to take up the post of director of the Civil Protection Department.

He said his successor, Peter Paul Zammit, never mentioned the Dalli case.

OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler is now expected to give evidence on 15 October – but Kessler has previously declared he would not step in Malta after John Dalli opined to mutual source that he faced being arrested by Maltese police.

John Dalli reacts

In a reaction, Dalli rejected the accusation of having traded in influence. “I reiterate that I did not know of any attempt of trading in influence. The facts that even OLAF could not refute are that I was never swayed in my resolve to push through a tobacco directive which would have been effective.”

John Dalli said Rizzo’s testimony in the privileges committee showed that he had not yet finalised his investigation, having declared that he wanted to have a final interview with him.

“This he did not do, even if he had all the time in the world before I left Malta to institute legal proceedings against Swedish Match and against the Commission, and after I returned, which was before he was replaced,” Dalli said.

“How is Rizzo making these assertions when he still had not concluded his investigation? Is this ethical behaviour on his part to publicise an opinion he held before having concluded his investigation?”

Dalli said that had the police interrogated him after the leak of the OLAF report – which was left unpublicised by both the European Commission and the Maltese authorities – it would have been him to “ask Rizzo many questions [on] an objective, intelligent reading of the OLAF report.”

“I would have asked about his interview in Brussels with [Swedish Match communications vice-president] Johann Gabrielsson, when, as reported by Gabrielsson and corroborated by [Swedish Match chairman of tobacco directive task force] Cecilia Isaksson, Gabrielsson was advised by both OLAF and the Malta police to continue stating his version about the meeting of the 10 February 2012, and which, back then, they all knew was a falsity, not to disrupt ‘investigations’ in Malta. Rizzo has not yet taken any action against Johan Gabrielsson for this serious statement,” Dalli said.

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