OLAF insists that it couldn’t give Dalli access to its report
Individuals being probed by the EU anti-fraud agency are not normally given access to investigation reports, an OLAF agency spokesman told The Times.
Former European Commissioner John Dalli – who resigned last month in the wake of an investigation by the agency linking him to a scandal involving the tobacco industry – claimed procedure was probably bypassed in his case. He said he was not given the opportunity to react to the findings of the investigation before it was concluded.
OLAF spokesman Johan Wullt, however, stressed the agency did not disclose its reports or the findings to people under investigation.
“This is a misunderstanding. When we interview people we give them the opportunity to react to the allegations and then give them the opportunity to read and approve the minutes of that interview but we never give the report to the person concerned,” Mr Wullt said.
This procedure was followed in both interviews the agency had with Mr Dalli, Mr Wullt insisted, pointing out that the former commissioner had the opportunity to have a lawyer assist him during both meetings.
The news comes after the president of the agency’s supervisory committee Johan Denolf on Tuesday informed MEPs of the budgetary control committee that one of its members had been nominated to see whether the agency had observed all the rules when investigating the Maltese official.
To this day, the report has not been made public in spite of several calls from different quarters, including Mr Dalli himself.
The few details of the investigation have come from the declarations of OLAF director general Giovanni Kessler at a press conference in Brussels the day after Mr Dalli’s resignation.
Mr Kessler had said there was “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” showing the former minister knew that former Nationalist councillor Silvio Zammit had asked the tobacco company Swedish Match for money to influence legislation under Mr Dalli’s portfolio.
No names were mentioned except for that of Mr Dalli. Moreover, it later emerged that the alleged bribe requested was €60 million in return for the lifting of the EU ban on snus, a smokeless form of tobacco which can only be sold in Sweden under present rules.
Both Mr Dalli and Mr Zammit have categorically denied the allegations.
The OLAF spokesman has argued that the decision on whether to release the report rests with the Maltese Attorney General, to whom the report was passed on.
The agency views its work like an internal auditor, which then coordinates with the judicial authorities of the member states for considerations of prosecution.
Asked whether it was the agency’s practice to discuss the main findings of its report in public before prosecutions were even considered, as had happened with the press conference given by Mr Kessler, the spokesman pointed at the extraordinary nature of this probe, since it involved a European Commissioner.
“We do not normally do that (discuss the conclusions publicly). We often disclose information that there is an investigation and we try not to disclose names of the people involved,” he said.
“In this case, the Commission issued a statement, saying Mr Dalli had resigned as a result of an OLAF investigation and then we felt an obligation to explain what we had done.”
Mr Dalli has repeatedly labelled OLAF’s conclusions as “conjecture” and complained the Commission had to this day failed to give a clear motivation for his resignation.