Questions for Kessler show Dalligate far from ‘case closed’

MEPs declare war on Big Tobacco with new cross-party working group

José Bové – pressing questions on Kessler
José Bové – pressing questions on Kessler

Two members of the European Parliament who remain adamant that former European Commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign because of the tobacco lobby’s influence in Brussels, have called on OLAF to explain why internal rules on investigative procedures were breached.

In a list of questions sent to Giovanni Kessler, director of OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, Green MEPs José Bové and Bart Staes asked why Kessler’s investigators had told officials of Swedish Match to lie about a meeting at which Dalli had not been present, and which implicated him in alleged bribery.

Dalli’s unceremonious resignation from the European Commission on 16 October, 2012 still manages to rile some MEPs. The former Maltese minister was accused of failing to report a bribery attempt by Silvio Zammit – currently in court on charges of bribery – to influence EU tobacco legislation and reverse a retail ban on smokeless tobacco snus, produced by Swedish Match.

When OLAF’s investigative report was leaked to MaltaToday in June 2013, it was revealed that a compromising meeting in which a bribe was discussed with Dalli, did not actually take place.

Bové and Staes had stepped up the heat months before: Johann Gabriellson, a Swedish Match official, admitted to Bové that he was instructed by OLAF to stick to that misleading version of events. In that version, Maltese lawyer Gayle Kimberley – the lobbyist hired by Swedish Match to curry favour with Dalli – was placed at the two meetings. Kimberley had concocted the second meeting with Dalli, giving the date of 12 February, 2012, and referred to it as something real with both the Maltese authorities and OLAF.

Now the two MEPs have written to Kessler, accusing him that he and his services authored a “biased, partial, and manipulated” investigation to have Dalli resign.

Bové and Staes want Kessler to answer as to why he did not interrogate the Swedish authorities whom Swedish Match had already approached on the bribery allegation; did not include OLAF’s exchanges with EC secretary-general Catherine Day and Michel Petite, the former head of EC legal services turned lobbyist for Phillip Morris; why OLAF informed Swedish Match of its completed investigation ahead of its official submission; and why they took the trouble to interrogate Dalli’s main accuser, Gayle Kimberley, in Portugal.

Crucially, they want to know why Kessler’s services suggested to Johan Gabrielsson not to say that the 12 February, 2012 meeting had been fabricated by Kimberley.


MEPs against Big Tobacco

MEPs have now created a new cross-party working group to counter the growing influence of the tobacco companies.

The group was put together by S&D deputy Gilles Pargneaux, who is a vice-chair of parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee, at the behest of Paris councillor Pauline Delpech, who has been campaigning against the tobacco industry in France.

Pargneaux called for the enforcement of article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, which requires all public health policies on tobacco control to be safe from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

José Bové, a member of the new group, accused the tobacco industry of “shopping around Europe without anyone getting in the way – this is an extremely serious threat to democracy”. 

He was especially critical of OLAF, which receives millions from tobacco associations to fight counterfeit cigarette smuggling. He said this was proven in the case of the Dalli resignation, when his associate Silvio Zammit was accused of requesting €60 million from Swedish Match, in exchange for the commissioner’s help to change tobacco rules.

Bové claimed that Kessler “covered up investigations into the matter”.

Kessler was not the only European official to come under fire, with Belgian MEP Bart Staes accusing budget and human resources commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, “or perhaps members of her staff and even OLAF representatives [of] entering into secret negotiations with tobacco manufacturers” to come up with a new agreement.

The European Commission currently has a deal with the four main tobacco companies (Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Limited) under which they pay a collective total of €1.9 billion to the EU to take steps to prevent the illegal trade of cigarettes.

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