Updated | John Dalli, Simon Busuttil in verbal tussle over apology request

John Dalli threatens legal action against leader of the Nationalist Party, Simon Busuttil • Busuttil says Dalli ‘owes an apology to the Maltese’

John Dalli
John Dalli

Former European Commissioner John Dalli is threatening legal action against Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, unless the latter apologises for his statements in parliament against the former Nationalist minister.

“I expect this apology. Otherwise I will have no other alternative but to institute proceedings for malicious defamation against him and all those participating with him in this infamous attack,” Dalli said.

Busuttil reacted saying that it was Dalli “who owes an apology to the Maltese” after he was asked to resign from the European Commission two years ago over bribery allegations.

Busuttil dubbed Dalli the “Prime Minister’s consultant” - having carried out a review of hospital operations in 2013 - and accused him of trying to deviate attention from his own case. “Former Police Commissioner John Rizzo, the Attorney General, the deputy attorney general, former deputy commissioner John Cachia and Inspector Angelo Gafà agreed that Dalli should be arraigned in court accused of criminal acts in trading in influence and bribery,” Busuttil said.

“This process stopped after Joseph Muscat became Prime Minister... Dalli will not scare me. The Prime Minister’s personal consultant thinks that he can threaten me with court action. Not even the Prime Minister scared me when he attempted to silence me and try me by ‘jury’ before three Labour MPs… let alone his consultant,” he said.

“Apologise for what?” Dalli said in a later statement issued at 9:30pm. “For being a victim of those who put the interests of the tobacco industry above the health of the European citizen? Of those who for local political gain, tried to discredit me for the second time with the local electorate?” Dalli said in a later statement issued at 9:30pm.

Dalli accused Busuttil of using parliament, and the immunity it gives him, “to conduct a dirty character assassination campaign” and that the note he presented in parliament was “a clear indication of the political pressure that was being exerted on the people involved at the time the note was written.”

Busuttil is facing a breach of privilege in the Privileges Committee brought by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, for refusing to take back his statement in parliament that Muscat would have instructed the commissioner of police after March 2013 not to press charges against Dalli, after Silvio Zammit was charged in court back in December 2012 over the Dalligate allegations.

In a testimony on Wednesday, former assistant police commissioner Michael Cassar told the committee that both the police and the Attorney General had agreed to separately charge Silvio Zammit and John Dalli on bribery and trading in influence. But Cassar however disagreed that the two should be charged separately and said that the evidence the police had against Dalli was circumstantial and would not have led to a conviction.

“Cassar stated unequivocally that the evidence the police had against me was circumstantial and would not have led to a conviction.  In his books, he said, you do not arraign people in court when you know that you will not have a conclusion,” Dalli said in a statement.

“Such action would not have been taken unless one had ulterior motives to do so – like pressure from one’s political masters”.

He added that the contention that a joint arraignment would have given extra credibility to the police charges, was in his opinion a legal non sequitur.  “In fact Cassar made it clear that this was his prima facie opinion,” Dalli said, adding that it was Nationalist MPs Chris Said and David Agius, in the committee, claiming that this would have made a difference.

Cassar in fact told the committee that former commissioner of police John Rizzo decided to arraign Zammit and Dalli separately. Zammit had been released on 10 December, then arrested again and arraigned on 11 December - the day after Lawrence Gonzi's government fell on a budgetary vote.

Rizzo’s successor, former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit, took over the case.  “Rizzo had not concluded his investigation and wanted another interview with me. Zammit conducted this last interview with me in the presence of investigating inspector Angelo Gafa,” Dalli said.

Dalli said Busuttil now owed him an apology, pointing out that the tobacco industry had targeted him using Maltese agents and the media, and accusing Busutttil of being in agreement with the tobacco lobby on the way they wanted to shape the Tobacco Products Directive.

The former commissioner said OLAF chief GiovannI Kessler was repeatedly refusing to face any questioning about his investigation, accusing the Italian investigator of having “collaborated with the tobacco lobby in their entrapment and subsequently in their execution”.

“It is now time for [Busuttil] to make an apology. I expect this apology.  Otherwise I will have no other alternative but to institute proceedings for malicious defamation against him and all those participating with him in this infamous attack,” Dalli said.