PM says he was not contacted by Barroso during Dalli investigation
Rita Schembri never interrogated anyone
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said today that European Commission President Jose' Manuel Barroso never spoke to him about the OLAF investigation involving John Dalli until the day of Mr Dalli's resignation.
Speaking in Parliament, Dr Gonzi said that Mr Barroso did not even raise the subject, directly or indirectly, when he was in Malta for the 5+5 meeting a few days before the resignation.
Dr Gonzi said he was also never contacted in any way by Rita Schembri, the Maltese member of the OLAF supervisory committee. He only got to know of the investigation when Cabinet Secretary Godwin Grima was informed.
Dr Gonzi said he was being very carful how he spoke about this case while the police investigation was still underway, pointing out that it involved 'three persons'.
He said that after the resignation was announced, he had told Mr Barroso that Malta was determined to ensure that its place in the College of Commissioners was not vacant for long. He hoped the government and the opposition would be able to cooperate for Tonio Borg to be confirmed commissioner by the end of this month.
CABINET OFFICE STATEMENT
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office in a statement with reference to last Saturday's discussion on Dissett and other media reports, this evening issued a statement to clarify the role of the Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID) within it.
It also explained the role of the Permanent Secretary Governance and Internal Audit, Rita Schembri.
"During the negotiation stage with the 10 acceding countries which joined the European Union on 1st May 2004, the European Commission required that all such candidate countries set up an Anti Fraud Co-ordinating Service (AFCOS). By setting up these AFCOSs all applicant countries had to demonstrate that they were capable to give “effective and equivalent protection” to the Communities’ financial interest. The Member State was also to co-operate effectively in this respect with OLAF and the Commission as required by Article 325 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (at that time Article 280 of the EC Treaty)," the Cabinet Office said.
"In this regard, the IAID, given its role on the national level, was designated by Cabinet in 2003 as the Anti Fraud Co-ordinating Services for Malta and an Administrative Co-operation Arrangement (ACA) was signed in June 2003 by the then Head of AFCOS, Mr Pierre Pace, and the previous Head of OLAF, Mr Frans Bruner.
"In terms of this agreement AFCOS Malta agreed to assist OLAF agents during their missions in Malta (both during “on-the-spot-checks” as well as during “investigations”) by ensuring that these missions are carried out as provided by the pertinent EU Regulations."
a) making the necessary logistical preparations prior to the actual OLAF mission in Malta;
b) accompanying OLAF’s agents during the actual mission in Malta;
c) producing all relevant information as may be requested by OLAF, before, during or following such missions; and
d) being present as observers during interviews carried out on Maltese territory.
"This is not the first OLAF mission to Malta and the above procedure was always scrupulously observed. Consequently the role of AFCOS in this investigation was solely to assist OLAF representatives as per the standing agreement as this was neither a local nor a joint investigation with OLAF but purely an OLAF investigation," the Cabinet Office said.
"The AFCOS Malta, headed by Ms Rita Schembri, confirms that two interviews were carried out in Malta with Maltese nationals on 4-5 July and 5 September. AFCOS was also requested to send further information to OLAF. Such information was not in AFCOS domain. AFCOS was therefore obliged in terms of the agreement (ACA) to liaise with other Maltese institutions also entrusted with the role of combating fraud and corruption, in particular the Malta Police Force.
"It is thus clear that in no way was Ms Rita Schembri ever interrogating any of the witnesses/persons concerned called in by OLAF. The role of the AFCOS is to act as an observer to ensure that the procedural guarantees of the Maltese witnesses/persons concerned were being fully safeguarded throughout the interview as per standing procedure.
"This is the standard practice adopted by AFCOS Malta for all OLAF investigations which required AFCOS assistance in Malta. Since the time Malta joined the EU one has to clarify that such occasions in Malta were few and far between and in fact there were only four (4) OLAF investigations including this one.
"As with all areas relating to the Internal Audit and Investigations Department and as per standard procedures Ms Rita Schembri, Head of AFCOS, informs the Cabinet Secretary, qua ex officio Chairman of the Internal Audit and Investigations Board (currently Dr Godwin Grima) about OLAF’s presence in Malta indicating ONLY that they are carrying out an investigation and the general area of such investigation.
"It is further clarified that at no stage did Head of AFCOS communicate with the Prime Minister. This applies both with respect to this investigation as well as on the other three OLAF missions," the Cabinet Office said.
"Finally, regarding Ms Schembri’s position vis-à-vis the Supervisory Committee one should underscore that hers was an elected appointment. In January 2012 the current five Supervisory Committee Members were chosen from amongst a list of European candidates by the three EU institutions namely, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. All Institutions were fully aware of the qualifications, competences and roles held by Ms Rita Schembri as at that date.
"The appointment of Ms Rita Schembri to such a prestigious supervisory role is a credit to her own competencies, the standing of the Internal Audit and Investigation Department qua National Audit Authority of EU Funds which she heads, and the reputation that Malta gained throughout the past years as Member State of the European Union.
"As has already been reported by the Supervisory Committee itself, Ms Schembri informed all Committee Members on 18 October via mail, that she would have to be excused whenever this particular item on the agenda was to be discussed, as directed by the Rules of Procedure of the Committee. Ms Schembri will obviously continue to excuse herself whenever an OLAF case involving a Maltese citizen is discussed within the Committee."