The man from O.L.A.F – Giovanni Kessler

Questioning OLAF’s style could set a dangerous precedent: Europeans want strict codes of conduct for Commissioners.

Giovanni Kessler, former anti-mafia magistrate, now OLAF chief.
Giovanni Kessler, former anti-mafia magistrate, now OLAF chief.

Giovanni Kessler, 56, has taken centre-stage in the Dalligate affair as the chief of the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF, who made his case - as far as he possibly could given that the matter is now under the Attorney General's review - that John Dalli was aware that Silvio Zammit was using his name to extract some sort of bribe.

Kessler was formerly an Italian MP from 2001 to 2006 of the Democratic Party (the fusion of the Democratic Left, heirs of the Italian communists, and the Margherita Party) and before that, a Christian democrat.

He comes from a political family, the son of Bruno Kessler, a deputy minister of the interior throughout his career. In 1985, Kessler became a magistrate and between 1995 and 1996, worked in Caltanissetta's anti-mafia directorate in Sicily.

His political career started after a brief appointment as head of the OSCE police and justice mission in Kosovo, from December 1998 to July 1999. From September 2006 till August 2008, he was High Commissioner to combat counterfeiting in Italy.

Kessler said Zammit made repeated requests for the €60 million bribe to reverse a snus ban in the Tobacco Products Directive (he did not spell this out, but the broad outline was shaped by the media and its revelations on the matter) even though John Dalli says this was "unthinkable, political suicide".

But Kessler illustrated his point by saying that had he, by way of example, had been aware that a friend of his was claiming he could get some OLAF investigation spiked by paying a bribe, and did nothing about it, then he would be guilty of trading in influence. The allegation is that Dalli did not act on this knowledge.

On his part, Dalli has told Jose Barroso in a letter he sent on Sunday that Kessler's remarks may have prejudiced his presumption of innocence.

Kessler;s claims are based on circumstantial evidence of previous meetings which featured both Dalli and Zammit, although there was no direct participation of Dalli in the request for a bribe from Swedish Match.

In a later development, Brussels-based political magazine New Europe attempted to portray Kessler's testimony to an Italian parliamentary committee on counterfeit trade, (noted in a Philip Morris report to the United Kingdom's House of Commons on the effects of unattractive cigarette packaging) as an "example of circumstantial evidence" that sheds some bad light on the OLAF chief for his comment that 85% of UK police officers completing a survey said plain packaging will make counterfeiting easier and cheaper.

This hypothesis could be the worst kind of attempt in inflicting guilt by association (Philip Morris is in a joint venture with Swedish Match to sell snus in the United States) given that Kessler was speaking to the Italian committee in his role as OLAF chief. It should be the Attorney General now who applies himself to prosecuting any wrongdoing.

If anything, OLAF has applied the strict rigour that many Europeans demand of the way the EU works: had Dalli not been made to resign, what would it have said of the EU - or perhaps Jose Barroso and his Commission?

".....that John Dalli was aware that Silvio Zammit was using his name to extract some sort of bribe." How the hell can this proven unless there are recorded tapes, emails, hand written letters or John Dalli saying so infront of two or more people. Otherwise this is all bull shot and Mr Kessler should publish OLAF's evidence. Whatever people might think I still maintain that it was a planned operation involving local politicians.