Dalli wades through miasma of unsubstantiated allegations

Bahamas philanthropic pow-wow was bona fide, say Canadian and UK businessmen who were present for Nassau talks.

John Dalli
John Dalli

John Dalli, never a stranger to controversy, is caught in a pickle - one where public perception counts for a lot.

The former European Commissioner lost his job on 16 October 2012, when José Manuel Barroso dismissed him summarily when anti-fraud EU agency OLAF claimed he had been aware of attempts by Silvio Zammit, a canvasser, to solicit a €60 million bribe to reverse an EU ban on snus, from tobacco manufacturers Swedish Match.

Six months later, the OLAF report finally saw the light of day but the "unambiguous circumstantial evidence" that would have proven Dalli's knowledge of the bribe, turned out to be telephone logs of the commissioner's calls to Zammit throughout 2012.

As of that moment, the spotlight shifted away from Dalli and onto OLAF and Barroso, now accused of an over-zealous investigation whose outcome was to stall the Tobacco Products Directive that Dalli was pushing, because it was severely harming the interests of the tobacco industry (which, it must be said, pays the Commission €1.65 billion to distribute among Member States in the fight against counterfeit cigarette smuggling).

MEPs from various political groups want to see OLAF director Giovanni Kessler's head on a plate, hopefully to finally get at Barroso too.

But earlier this week, on Monday, the International Herald Tribune claimed that on 6 June, Dalli had interrupted a private dinner hosted by Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou to catch a private jet to the Bahamas, smack bang in the middle of the OLAF investigation, to arrange a $100 million transfer.

Although no evidence exists of this transfer, the implications sound damaging for Dalli, because it fuelled speculation that after calling Silvio Zammit on 6 June at 6.07pm during the Vassiliou dinner - where five other commissioners were present - Dalli left for Malta to catch a private jet to the Bahamas. Zammit had just been interrogated by OLAF director Giovanni Kessler that very day in Valletta, over his request to Swedish Match to pay €60 million to reverse the EU retail ban on snus tobacco.

Dalli has denied this speculation, which appears to be hinging on claims by a Bahamanian resident - Barry Connor - who rented his Nassau villa to Tyre Ltd, a company whose secretary is Claire Gauci Borda, Dalli's daughter.

Connor is now releasing titbits of information related to the Bahamas visits, to which he was privy, where rich philanthropists ostensibly connected through their Christian faith came together to discuss how to raise billions of dollars in finance to set up a charitable venture for Africa. He is also claiming that it was his trust that was earmarked for a $100 million transfer, which never happened.

So what is really happening in this new media battle for the embattled John Dalli?

Above board or incomplete disclosure?

The question is: how does the evidence at hand play out for John Dalli?

On one hand, he has had to explain why there is no connection between the OLAF investigation and his Bahamas trips despite the unfortunate timing.

On the other, Dalli's voluntary advice to this philanthropic initiative is blemished by a few facts: that he did not stay above suspicion by informing his Cabinet beforehand of his Bahamas visit; that it was Tyre Ltd, a company that employs his son-in-law Adrian Gauci Borda and has his daughter Claire Gauci Borda as secretary, which served as a "coordination vehicle" to set up the Bahamas meet for this philanthropists' ball (rent out Connor's villa, in a nutshell).

All in all, Dalli has had to answer for his participation in what is a private, albeit charitable venture, while at the time having been a public person who was the subject of an OLAF investigation.

Dalli says his voluntary advice continues to this day and that the Code of Commissioners did not preclude him from participating in this charity. But he did admit yesterday that his Cabinet found out about his Bahamas trip after he erroneously inserted that ticket stub for the Commission's budgetary verification. He was later told he could not be refunded for that voyage. As it turned out, Dalli took the opportunity yesterday to tell journalists he had no doubt that his former head of cabinet Joanna Darmanin - who served both his predecessor Joe Borg and successor Tonio Borg - had been the source of this information.

Dalli stubbornly claims he "didn't feel the need to inform the Commission" of his Bahamas trip.

OLAF timing

Dalli also said yesterday that plans for the first Bahamas trip were made as early as 12 June 2012, pushing the obvious line that he was surely unaware of the OLAF investigation that had started earlier that month.

Witness Gayle Kimberley, the Swedish Match lobbyist, was interrogated by OLAF on 14 June. Silvio Zammit found out about the interrogation days later, having called her on the 17 June, and then called John Dalli that same day - for a call lasting 23 seconds - and then the next day on 18 June, for a call lasting three minutes.

Dalli had denied having been told by Zammit of the OLAF investigation at this point, something the anti-fraud agency has always been unconvinced about. The Times claims a Malta police source told it that Dalli admitted under interrogation of being alerted of the investigation. Officially, Dalli was informed that he was a person of interest in the OLAF investigation on 11 July, and then first questioned on 16 July.

But all throughout the investigation - that is, after the July interrogation - Dalli carried out two trips to the Bahamas in August and September.

Barry Connor, the Herald source, did not feature in the first 7 July flight to Nassau, because Dalli says he carried out his talks on the billion-dollar African venture on the private jet. He touched down in Nassau and then proceeded to the airport to return to Malta.

Dalli returned to the Bahamas in August, where over a period of five days, he stayed at Connor's villa, which served as the base for the Christian-faith entrepreneurs and financiers interested in raising the cash for the African project. He then returned to the same villa in September for three days.

Connor, Dalli claims, was not part of this network, but was apparently tolerated throughout the meetings. "They were open talks. He was there often, speaking to us, suggesting that we pour the finance - when we get it - in his own trust. He even cooked for us at the villa. He was not part of it but he was allowed to join in the talks."

The villa, rented for an entire year by Tyre Ltd on 14 July 2012 through the professional office of his daughter, hosted the philanthropists, among them Mary Swann, a millionaire residing in Sliema, Malta.

After the September visit, Connor claims he spoke to Mary Swann, and that he was told his trust would receive over $100 million from Chase Manhattan in New York, or a Dubai bank.

The transfer did not occur, by Connor's own admission. When asked about it, Dalli told MaltaToday that it would have been "madness" to trust an unknown person with such a charity's finances.

Dalli says that on the other hand, it was his daughter Claire who refused to process a "suspicious" transaction on Connor's part, and that the scorned landlord was trying to get his back at him.

Tyre Ltd

Because the company name used to rent out Connor's villa was Tyre Ltd, questions have been raised about Tyre's gold mining ambitions and connections to evangelical Christian entrepreneurs.

After September, Connor demanded that Tyre Ltd pay him the outstanding rent on the villa. Upon learning of Dalli's termination from office in October 2012, he made a formal complaint to OLAF in November. But the agency said the matter was a civil claim it would not investigate.

Connor however did come to Malta to get his cash personally, knocking on the door of Adrian Gauci Borda. The outstanding rent has since been paid, Dalli told journalists.

Undoubtedly, the existence of Tyre Ltd has continued to raise questions. A company trading in gold and with interests in gold mining, its shareholders included Derrick Germaine, a publisher of the Georgia, US company Dake Publishing, and Thai national Thamnoon Kunajak, also known as 'Andy', an independent mining consultant.

Tyre described itself as a "small, but active supplier and trader with connections in many countries. We buy and export ferrous and non-ferrous metals. We deal in commodities like food, water, beef, canned food, etc. for humanitarian relief."

Headquartered at the Portomaso office of Corporate Consultancy, the audit firm run by Claire Gauci Borda, Tyre Ltd, employed her husband Adrian. When Germaine and Kunajak no longer stayed on in the company, the shareholding passed on to British financier Martin Zuch in December 2012.

A connection between Zuch and Gauci Borda is revealed Kingdom Trust Traders, which is Tyre Ltd's trading name. On its website, KTT describes itself as "a commodities marketing company with the vision of utilising business opportunities to underwrite the rescue of desperate groups of people such as hungry and abused children, human trafficking, oppressed women, and others around the world".

Other members include Took Hammond, an evangelical Christian pastor from Thailand, who together with husband Robert Hammond run the InChrist Ministries in Bangkok.

Evidently, the Christian evangelical pedigree of Tyre Ltd's shareholders continued unabated since the company passed on from Germain to Martin Zuch, who runs his own charity Give Hope International in Ethiopia and Zambia. Zuch is also a shareholder in the fledgling Jubilee Oil and Gas, another ethical commodities trader.

Testimonials for Dalli

Dalli yesterday produced two testimonials from George Amponsem, president of the Kimminic Corporation of Missisauga, Ontario and Jakob Kinde, chairman of Boustead Agriculture, of London, to attest to Dalli's bona fide presence in the Bahamas. Both of them were in Connor's villa in Nassau during the talks on the African project.

"My project in Ghana about innovative energy - biodiesel, biofertiliser and clean power - was one of those we discussed at length," Amponsen wrote in his testimonial. "We have been making presentations across North America, European and Africa to raise the additional funds for the project, with Mr Dalli in attendance as an advisor. As at now, we still haven't obtained the needed funds ($12 million) to complete the project...

"I have been stunned by the innuendoes and misrepresentations raised about Mr Dalli at the meetings in the Bahamas. I will dare to say that it is very unfortunate that his detractors have read so much into the meeting and fabricated the money transfer story about this meeting. Mr Dalli's position on the visit to the Bahamas is credible."

Kinde, on his part, says Dalli was invited to give advice on "a number of different philanthropic ventures to help fund community development projects, poverty alleviation and feeding programmes in developing countries with Boustead Agriculture's focus and programmes mainly focused in Africa...

"The venture is still in its infancy and development stage. As mentioned in a recent press article, the venture targets private finance in excess of several hundreds of million dollars... we are grateful to John for all his kind advice and support in helping us to establish ourselves as a global philanthropic player."

Hawwadni ha nifhmek!