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Commission and Dalli trade blows over his ‘resignation’

John Dalli’s position as health commissioner had become politically untenable following findings of “several unofficial contacts” with elements of the tobacco industry through a “private intermediary”, the European Commission said yesterday.

I had absolutely no knowledge of the alleged request by a Maltese businessman- John Dalli

It also insisted there was no need for Mr Dalli to send a resignation letter as he had already accepted to resign twice during his meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso, pictured above, last week.

Mr Dalli, however, continues to maintain his innocence through various interviews and is challenging the Commission and OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, on their findings of impropriety.

During its media briefing the Commission said it was up to the Maltese judicial authorities to decide whether to take any action against Mr Dalli and others involved in their investigations and whether to publish the report.

At the same time, Brussels started the process to replace Mr Dalli and Mr Barroso yesterday received Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg to appoint him Commissioner-designate for health and consumer affairs.

His position had become politically untenable- European Commission

On his part, after sending a letter to MEPs urging them to push the Commission to forge ahead with the Tobacco Directive, Mr Dalli is today expected to meet European Parliament president Martin Schultz in Strasbourg to explain his side of the story.

Mr Dalli believes there is a conspiracy against him which includes members of his own party in Malta and in an interview with The Times (see pages 4 and 5) he protests about what he describes as a media campaign against him “controlled by GonziPN”.

Asked if he suspected a Maltese hidden hand behind his resignation from the prestigious EU position, he said: “It could be and I am going to stop here.”

He insisted he had absolutely no knowledge of the alleged request by Maltese businessman Silvio Zammit for a bribe in return for influence on legislation in his portfolio.

Mr Dalli also said Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had spoken to him about the OLAF investigation months ago, before it became public, but would not disclose details of the conversation.

The Office of the Prime Minister confirmed that Lawrence Gonzi spoke to Mr Dalli about the probe, on which no details had been made available to Dr Gonzi. He also told the Cabinet Secretary to make sure OLAF had full cooperation from all concerned.

In the interview, Mr Dalli also protested about the fact that he still had no access to the report his resignation was premised on and reiterated his call on OLAF to make it public.

When asked whether he would make it public, Mr Dalli said: “Yes, unless there is something that is prejudicial to my legal position. I am calling on OLAF to make it public.”

He sent a letter, signed as a Commissioner, asking Mr Barroso to clarify his status.

Asked why he had done this, Mr Dalli said he had clearly stated in his meeting with Mr Barroso he intended to offer his resignation but he should be sent a formal letter detailing why he should resign.

Mr Dalli also claimed “quite a number” of commissioners from the main countries had supported him at a College meeting the day after his resignation. He did not say who, or how many there were, but said there was a lot of support because they recognised that OLAF’s allegations were “frivolous”.

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