Watchdog files EU Ombudsman complaint over Commission’s secrecy on Dalligate

Emails from EC secretary-general to Swedish Match not revealed in answers to MEPs’ 154 questions to Commission and OLAF.

Catherine Day, EC secretary-general, with José Manuel Barroso and Johannes Laitenberger, head of Barroso cabinet.
Catherine Day, EC secretary-general, with José Manuel Barroso and Johannes Laitenberger, head of Barroso cabinet.

An email exchange between the European Commission's secretary-general Catherine Day and a Swedish Match official that took place over the 24 hours from the resignation of former health commissioner John Dalli, may have been deliberately excluded from answers the Commission was asked to give to MEPs in Brussels.

The transparency watchdog Corporate European Observatory (CEO) has published correspondence between Day and Fredrik Peyron, which had not been included in answers to 154 questions by MEPs from the budgetary control committee, on the Dalligate affair from the Commission and OLAF, the anti-fraud office of the EU.

CEO says the hitherto unknown email exchange, now published under a freedom of information request, is a "potentially controversial" exchange because it took place at a sensitive moment in the Dalli affair, but was not made public to MEPs in their 154 questions to the European Commission.

"This potentially controversial email exchange... should have been mentioned in the Commission's answers to the 154 questions. But the Commission didn't include the two emails in its list of contacts between Swedish Match and the Commission Secretariat," CEO said today.

"The two letters clearly fall within the scope of our request for documents... but the Commission did not include them... This selective approach reveals that the Commission's approach has been far from transparent, but rather deceptive. Corporate Europe Observatory remains determined to get clarity on what really happened in the Dalli case and on the role of the tobacco lobby in the Tobacco Products Directive revision."

John Dalli resigned on 16 October 2012 after he was presented with a covering letter to an investigative report by OLAF, claiming he was aware that Silvio Zammit, a political canvasser and businessman, had asked snus producers Swedish Match for €60 million to reverse an EU retail ban on snus tobacco.

On 15 October, Swedish Match company secretary Michel Peyron wrote to Catherine Day asking for a meeting to be set up on the subject of snus.

Within hours after Dalli's resignation on 16 October, at 5:10pm EC secretary-general Catherine Day replied to Peyron, informing him that the EC had received the final OLAF report on 15 October; and refers to a letter Peyron sent to the Commission on 14 May 2013 - possibly Swedish Match's formal complaint to the EC on the Silvio Zammit bribe.

OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler was copied in the email.

On 17 October at 9:14am, Peyron replied, revealing his original request of 15 October: "As I wrote to you on Monday we would very much appreciate a personal meeting with you to receive reassurance that the issue of traditional Swedish snus is being evaluated based on science and according to established principles in the current review of the Tobacco Directive. Will such a meeting be possible?"

In her reply of 22 October, Day formally declined Peyron's request, advising him to make contact with the new commissioner who would take on the health portfolio.

While the email exchange was revealed in a rejection letter from the Commission to reveal all minutes and notes from meetings, internal and external correspondence, emails and other documents related to the Dalligate investigation, CEO says the Commission is still refusing to reveal the original correspondence that took place in May 2012 when the official complait was filed by Swedish Match.

CEO says it  will challenge this decision in a complaint to the European Ombudsman.

154 questions from MEPs to European Commission and OLAF by maltatoday

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I am rather confused at this stage. Are we teaching these guys political intrigue and dishonesty, or are they teaching us how to practice the subject in a more slight of hand manner? I am sure we can package and export our expertise in this subject and start rolling in EU funds.