Updated | European Greens accuse parliament groups of cover-up over Dalligate inquiry

“Cover-up continues” as EP political groups oppose Green demand for special committee

John Dalli (left) with Green MEP José Bové
John Dalli (left) with Green MEP José Bové

Adds reply by OLAF

The controversy surrounding the resignation of former European Commissioner John Dalli continues in Brussels, after presidents of the major political groups in the European Parliament voted to reject a request for a special committee of inquiry.

The majority of the leaders of the EP's political groups in the European Parliament have voted to reject a request by the Greens group to create a special committee of inquiry into the role of tobacco lobbying.

The request for the inquiry came after revelations that OLAF - which receives over €1 billion from tobacco giants to fight contraband cigarettes - suggested to Swedish Match officials not to reveal that a lobbyist they had employed did not meet former commissioner John Dalli when a suggestion for a bribe to influence tobacco laws was floated.

The allegations led to Dalli's resignation on 16 October on the strength of a covering letter from the EU's anti-fraud agency OLAF, whose investigative report remains unpublished.

Yesterday's vote, taken at the Parliament's conference of presidents, saw the leaders of all political groups, apart from the Greens and the United European Left, reject the setting-up of the committee.

Greens co-president Rebecca Harms roundly condemned the decision. "In rejecting the proposed special committee, the bigger political groups are preventing the European Parliament from responding to the expectations of EU citizens by providing greater transparency on the role of lobbying in the EU institutions.

"Far too many questions remain unanswered in the aftermath of the Dalli case, notably as regards the access and conduct of the tobacco industry in the EU legislative process. The failure to address these questions is a missed opportunity for the EP to play a proactive role in providing transparency and helping restore citizens' confidence in the EU institutions."

Green MEPs Bart Staes, vice-chair of the EP's budgetary control committee, and José Bové, vice-chair of the EP's agriculture committee, who first revealed that Swedish Match were told by OLAF to stick to a misleading version of events into the Dalligate saga, when appearing before the European Parliament, said the "cover-up was unacceptable and incomprehensible."

"With ongoing revelations emerging in the context of the Dalli controversy, both as regards the roles of OLAF and the European Commission, there is a glaring need for an open and transparent discussion," the MEPs said.

European transparency groups lodged a complaint with the EC over the reappointment of former head of the Commission's legal services Michel Petite, to an ethical committee that is supposed to regulate lobbies and their influence in Brussels: Petite today works as a lawyer for the firm Clifford Chance, and represents tobacco giant Philip Morris.

"The case clearly has wider implications for the EU institutions and the applicable rules on ethics, transparency and the role of lobbying," Staes and Bové said. "For this reason, the Greens group proposed a special committee to examine concrete examples of good and bad practices as regards avoidance of conflicts of interests, undue influence and irregularities in decision-making processes within the EU's institutions and selected agencies.

"In blocking this initiative, the majority of the political groups are acting as an impediment to transparency and are threatening the credibility of the EU institutions. The Greens will continue to push to ensure that there is a more substantial response with regard to the role and influence of lobbyists on EU policy."

OLAF replies

Your article contains two false and misleading statements about the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF.

First, you state that OLAF "receives over €1 billion" from "tobacco giants". In fact, OLAF receives no funding from the tobacco industry or from any other external source. OLAF's annual administration budget is less than €60 million, all of which is funded by the EU budget.

(MaltaToday: OLAF has signed legally binding and enforceable agreements with the world's 4 largest tobacco manufacturer to pay a collective total of $2.15 billion to the EU in the fight against cigarette smuggling).

Second, you report that Swedish Match was instructed by OLAF to convey a misleading version of events. OLAF categorically denies this allegation: at no point has OLAF instructed, advised or in any way sought to influence the evidence given by Swedish Match. OLAF has already denied this allegation on 21 March. It is regrettable that you make no mention of this fact.
 
We also draw to your attention that Swedish Match have also denied that OLAF brought any pressure on them. To quote Mr Patrik Hildingsson, Vice-President of Swedish Match, "at no point in time has OLAF put pressure on us or insinuated that we should alter our view of the events in either direction".

MaltaToday

MaltaToday has quoted Mr Johan Gabrielsson, who told an MEP that it was OLAF who suggested they stick to "the story as [Swedish Match] knew it" not to disturb ongoing court proceedings in Malta, infering the ommission of the fact that Gayle Kimberley had not met John Dalli at his office in a second meeting.

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Now Mr Barroso is blocking the directive on tobacco.Self sustained.
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Ironic, isn't it, that it's the greens who are taking up the cause of John Dali?
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This case will never be made open because it will expose the Barrosso/Gonzi tandem being behind the whole sordid business.