‘Dalli was ready to take risks as he did with GMOs’
Former European Commissioner John Dalli was reported twice by two different people saying that he was prepared to “take risks” in connection with EU tobacco legislation, just as he had done with the controversial lifting of a 13-year ban on GMOs, a court heard yesterday.
In a two-hour long testimony by Police Inspector Angelo Gafà, it emerged yesterday that two witnesses in the Dalligate investigation said the former Nationalist Minister had declared he was willing to take risks in relation to the lifting of a ban on snus – just as he had done with GMOs.
The investigation continues
Snus is a smokeless form of tobacco that under EU rules can only be sold in Sweden.
In 2010, Mr Dalli had proposed to open the EU market to GMO cultivation, which was rejected.
“If any commissioner is prepared to lift the ban, it’s this one,” said Gayle Kimberley, the Maltese representative for Swedish Match, the snus manufacturer in the eye of the storm, when she reported on her first meeting with Mr Dalli that took place on January 6.
According to Inspector Gafà, she also said that Mr Dalli had declared he was prepared to take risks, similar to those he had taken with GMOs.
The claim is almost identical to that made by Inge Delfosse, secretary general of the European Smokeless Tobacco Lobby (ESTOC), in which Swedish Match is represented.
Ms Delfosse reported Silvio Zammit, Mr Dalli’s former canvasser, telling her that the commissioner had “seen Swedish Match’s point”. Mr Dalli, he added, was prepared to take risks, as he had done with GMO legislation.
The details emerged during the compilation of evidence in proceedings against Mr Zammit, 48, of Sliema, who was charged with bribery and trading in influence on Tuesday.
The charges relate to Mr Zammit’s alleged request to Swedish Match for a €60 million bribe to help lift the European Union-wide ban on snus, save for Sweden under a special derogation.
The case came to light after the EU anti-fraud agency (OLAF) investigated the matter and concluded in October that although it had no evidence that Mr Dalli actually directed the request, it had “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” that the former Commissioner knew such a request was being made in his name.
During his testimony yesterday, Inspector Gafà, from the Economic Crimes Unit, referred to Mr Zammit’s statements given during several interrogations over the past few weeks and pointed out inconsistencies concerning whether Mr Dalli was aware of his request for a bribe.
In one such instance, following an overnight stay at the police lock-up in Floriana, Mr Zammit released a declaration claiming he was acting on behalf of others.
However, when the police pointed out that this suggested Mr Dalli was implicated, Mr Zammit withdrew his declaration.
Then, in his last interrogation before he was arraigned on Tuesday, Mr Zammit made a spontaneous, categorical declaration that Mr Dalli was not involved in the matter. Nonetheless, the inspector yesterday revealed that the investigation had not been concluded and that more people could be arraigned.
When he was later asked point blank by presiding Magistrate Anthony Vella if he intended charging anyone else, Mr Gafà was uncomfortable naming anyone.
However, Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar, who was also present at the hearing, said there was no plan to arraign lawyer Gayle Kimberley, a protagonist in the investigations, or her lover, Iosif Galea, leaving a question mark as to whether it will be Mr Dalli.
Except for these sporadic declarations, Mr Zammit mostly refused to answer the investigators’ questions and even “played games”, the inspector said. For instance, he repeatedly said he had evidence that would prove his innocence and show that OLAF had done a poor job of investigating. But when asked to point the police to this evidence, he would say it was in “the North Pole, the South Pole, East and West”.
In his overview of the investigation, Inspector Gafà said the police did not rely on the OLAF investigation report but expanded on it and did their own fact checking.
“We went beyond the investigation and looked into every crevice and are in fact, still investigating,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Zammit remained in custody yesterday, with the magistrate postponing a reconsideration of bail for next Tuesday, when the court is expected to hear evidence from key witnesses.
Towards the end of the hearing, there was an argument between Mr Zammit’s lawyer Kris Busietta and Inspector Gafa’ over the release of the OLAF report.
Ever since some of its conclusions were made public in October, many, including Mr Dalli, have been campaigning for its release.
The inspector insisted the Maltese police never presented as evidence investigation reports but simply the facts and evidence presented in them.