Updated: Ex-Commissioner warned Silvio Zammit in August against harming his reputation
John Dalli has revealed that last August he wrote to Silvio Zammit, warning him in a legal letter that he would hold him responsible if he harmed his reputation.
The former European Commissioner told The Times that he wrote to Mr Zammit as soon as he heard certain allegations from OLAF, which was investigating trading in influence.
Mr Dalli said that Mr Zammit wrote back, but he gave no further details.
When contacted, Mr Zammit refused to comment.
Mr Dalli resigned over the case on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mr Dalli yesterday emphatically denied any knowledge of the cash-for-influence request made by Mr Zammit, his former canvasser to a Swedish tobacco company.
In a second interview with New Europe magazine in five days, Mr Dalli insisted he was not corrupt.
“Absolutely not,” he responded when asked whether he had any knowledge that a Maltese businessman was asking for money to alter EU tobacco legislation.
He gave the same answer when asked whether he was “bribable”.
Mr Dalli resigned as commissioner on Tuesday after an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud unit, OLAF, found he was aware that a Maltese businessman was using his contacts with the EU Commissioner to trade in influence and he did nothing to stop or report this activity.
The businessman is restaurant owner and circus promoter Silvio Zammit, who until Tuesday was the Nationalist Party’s deputy mayor in Sliema.
Mr Zammit was named by Mr Dalli in the first interview he gave New Europe last week. The businessman owns Peppi’s restaurant in Sliema and was Mr Dalli’s canvasser on the 10th district at the last election.
Mr Zammit allegedly approached Swedish Match, a tobacco company, with an offer to influence the upcoming review of tobacco legislation if they paid him a large sum of money.
Swedish Match produces snus, a smokeless form of oral tobacco that cannot be sold in the EU except Sweden. The company has long clamoured for the sales ban to be lifted opening up a potential market of €300 million.
OLAF would only say the amount Mr Zammit asked for was “substantial” and no transaction ever took place because the company reported the matter to the Commission.
But on Friday Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet quoted a company official saying Mr Zammit asked for €60 million – €10 million to be paid immediately and €50 million when the ban was to be lifted.
Mr Zammit declined to comment on Swedish Match’s claims and Mr Dalli yesterday said these were “fantastic” figures. Mr Dalli reiterated this was entrapment by the tobacco industry to delay the legislative changes that would have tightened packaging regulations, among others.
When asked whether he knew Mr Zammit was speaking to the tobacco lobby on his behalf, Mr Dalli specified he had “absolutely no knowledge of this communication”, with reference to the illegal request.
Mr Zammit had in fact organised two meetings between Mr Dalli and snus lobbyists in 2010 and last January. The businessman has denied any wrongdoing, insisting his lobbying activity was above board.
Mr Dalli insisted whoever was proposing a change in the treatment of snus in Europe was “crazy” because a court had already thrown out a challenge to the ban. “It is political suicide to change anything like this,” he said.
During the interview, Mr Dalli was presented with an extract from a report compiled by tobacco company Philip Morris in August.
The report quoted OLAF head Giovanni Kessler supporting the position of tobacco companies against changes to packaging rules.
Mr Dalli’s reaction was a jibe at Dr Kessler: “If anybody is investigating Giovanni Kessler he will be using this as unambiguous circumstantial evidence.”
This was a reference to OLAF’s conclusions that “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” connected Mr Dalli with Mr Zammit and the attempt to trade in influence.
The extract quoted in the interview makes reference to testimony Dr Kessler gave an Italian parliamentary committee in June where he said changing tobacco packaging – as proposed by Mr Dalli – would make counterfeiting easier and cheaper.
Mr Dalli said the postponement of new tobacco legislation meant the tobacco industry will continue to make billions of euros every day at the expense of people’s health.
In a subsequent interview yesterday with Aftonbladet, Mr Dalli said he wanted to obtain a copy of the report to find out the accusations being levelled against him and said he would take legal action in Malta, Brussels and Luxembourg to clear his name.