OLAF investigated over illegal wiretapping during Dalli investigation

Supervisory committee investigating EU anti-fraud agency OLAF over claims that it carried out illegal tapping for damning piece of evidence used in Dalligate investigation.

OLAF’s supervisory committee says Giovanni Kessler could be held personally liable if it transpired he ordered illegal phone tapping of a conversation between Silvio Zammit and Inge Delfosse.
OLAF’s supervisory committee says Giovanni Kessler could be held personally liable if it transpired he ordered illegal phone tapping of a conversation between Silvio Zammit and Inge Delfosse.

OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, is being investigated over claims that it illegally tapped phones during its investigation into former European Commissioner John Dalli, the UK Sunday Times reports.

The newspaper reports that a crucial recording of a call between Silvio Zammit and Inge Delfosse used by OLAF may be illegal if it was recorded without Zammit’s consent.

The recording relates to a damning conversation between Silvio Zammit, a one-time canvasser of Dalli and a former Sliema deputy mayor, and Inge Delfosse, a representative from the European Smokeless Tobacco Lobby (ESTOC). During this conversation – which was made from OLAF’s headquarters in Brussels – Zammit is alleged to have asked for €10 million to arrange a meeting between his “boss” and Delfosse’s boss, in which a proposal to lift a ban on snus would be discussed.

Zammit was subsequently arraigned with soliciting a €60 million bribe to reverse the ban on snus – a smokeless form of tobacco – while John Dalli resigned as European Commissioner after the anti-fraud agency intercepted a series of phone calls between himself and Zammit at key moments when these alleged bribe requests were made.

But a new report by OLAF’s supervisory committee said that the recording was recorded without Zammit’s knowledge, and that this constituted “unjustified interference with the right to the respect for private life.” If the recording is declared illegal, it would be inadmissible as evidence before a court of law.

“Our legal analysis is clear: such phone tapping is illegal,” said Tuomas Poysti, the chairman of Olaf’s supervisory committee, who is also the Auditor General of Finland.

The UK Sunday Times also reports that Belgian investigators have asked the European Commission to lift the diplomatic immunity of OLAF officials who are accused of making the recordings so they can be investigated – and possibly prosecuted – under the country’s law.

“The accusations are serious,” a source close to the investigation told the newspaper. “Secretly recording private conversations without judicial authorisation is illegal in this country.”

If it transpires that Giovanni Kessler ordered the phone tapping, the OLAF chief could be held personally liable. This is not the first time that the man who led the investigation into former European Commissioner John Dalli is in hot water as in 2013, Green MEP Bart Staes relayed shocking statements by a member of OLAF's supervisory committee alleging illegal wiretapping of conversations by the subjects of the 'Dalligate' controversy.

Kessler’s recent testimony against Silvio Zammit in Malta was denounced by both Zammit and Dalli, with the latter calling on the police to “take action” after accusing Kessler of committing perjury.

The investigation by OLAF’s supervisory committee also accused the EU anti-fraud agency of a lack of accountability and transparency and of unnecessarily opening minor cases only to close-them down again so they could be classified as having been successfully resolved.

Kessler is accused in the report of having personally opened 423 such cases in a single day. Many cases were opened against Romanian and Bulgarian companies EU funds, which following the reports would have been automatically blacklisted for further financial support, even though the investigations against them had been ended abruptly.

Companies that lost access to EU funding could now claim compensation.

“Olaf opened and then soon closed a huge number of cases just to manipulate the statistics and artificially boost their productivity and efficiency,” said Ingeborg Grässle, an MEP who chairs the EU’s budgetary control committee.

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