From Dalligate ... to Olafgate?
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From Dalligate ... to Olafgate?

OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler.

OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler.

Giovanni Kessler, the man responsible for the probe that toppled European Commissioner John Dalli, is in the line of fire and there is no end in sight to the onslaught. Mark Micallef looks at the latest developments of what some of the Brussels press is now calling Olafgate.

Giovanni Kessler, the chief of the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF, started the week defending his reputation before a heated hearing of MEPs of the Budgetary Control Committee.

A leaked document says OLAF staff acted illegally when they interrogated Silvio Zammit and carried out an on-the-spot check at his restaurant last June

He ended it disputing a leaked document, which claims that some of his and his agency’s actions in the investigation on John Dalli were illegal.

The leaked document which surfaced in Brussels purports to be a 41-point summary of a review carried out specifically on the Dalli case by OLAF’s supervisory committee.

The review report, which is stored in a vault of the European Parliament, has so far only been accessible to a few people who have been granted special permission to see it for up to three hours but not make a copy of it.

Among the more damning claims in the summary leaked to the press is that OLAF staff acted illegally when they interrogated Silvio Zammit – a Sliema entrepreneur at the heart of Dalligate – and carried out an on-the-spot check at his restaurant last June.

It also insists that the investigation itself was beyond OLAF’s remit, and that it had no basis to ask for telephone records of the suspects from Maltese authorities.

Parts of the document were quoted by the EU Observer and OLAF reacted forcefully to the leak, questioning its veracity.

Asked for a reaction, an OLAF spokeswoman told The Sunday Times of Malta the document was an attempt “to mislead and manipulate public opinion”, adding that the document was “being falsely described as written by the OLAF supervisory committee”.

However, Corporate Europe, a Brussels-based NGO that first published the leaked summary, said there was no question that the synopsis had not been written by the supervisory committee but was in fact a series of points made by a whistleblower who accessed the document.

Moreover, the NGO pointed out that OLAF’s statement did not go into the contents of the summary and “there is therefore no reason to believe that the summary does not adequately reflect the content of the [still confidential] supervisory committee on OLAF’s investigations into the Dalli case”.

Beyond the traded statements, however, the points in the leaked summary appear to tally with the supervisory committee’s annual report, which is actually public and seriously criticised OLAF’s operations.

This report also questions the legal basis of some investigative actions taken by OLAF and suggests the anti-fraud agency may have breached articles in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Charter of Human Rights. Sources told The Sunday Times of Malta these passages refer directly to the Dalligate investigation.

The language is more diplomatic but the inferences are equally serious for Mr Kessler and the work carried out on the Dalli investigation that surfaced in October.

MEPs like the German Inge Graessle (European People’s Party) and the Belgian Green Bart Staes, were in no doubt with both asking for Mr Kessler’s resignation.

Dr Graessle was perhaps the most forceful, describing the situation at OLAF as “a fire out of control” and “rotten”.

It is unclear if developments in Brussels will have any impact on Malta’s investigations on Mr Dalli, which are still ongoing, particularly because the police have always insisted their investigation was independent from that of OLAF and that it had gathered its own evidence.

There were divergent opinions within the investigative team on whether the police had a strong enough case to go to court with but at one point in December, a decision was taken to charge Mr Dalli.

Their investigation was stalled because Mr Dalli was out of the country presenting one medical certificate after the other to justify his absence.

Moreover, when asked recently whether Mr Dalli would be charged, the new Police Commissioner Peter Paul Zammit said the case was still open but indicated he was reviewing the investigation and wanted to take his time.

Nonetheless, developments in Malta and Brussels are interlinked on this case.

The twist which fuelled the latest fire of critical MEPs in Brussels was the testimony given in the case of Mr Zammit, 49.

He is pleading not guilty to charges of corruption and trading in influence over his alleged request for €60 million to help lift an EU-wide ban on snus, a smokeless form of tobacco that can only be sold in Sweden under current rules.

While giving evidence in the case on April 19, witness Gayle Kimberley revealed she had been taken out for lunch “to relax and have some wine” by Dr Kessler after her first interrogation that lasted several hours. She was the firstperson interrogated by OLAF.

She also revealed that Dr Kessler told her, while in Malta, to be careful of Mr Dalli and Mr Zammit, adding that the former Mafia prosecutor said he “was Italian and knew how things worked”.

Again, the response of Dr Graessle was searing, calling for Mr Kessler’s immediate suspension in view of his “serious failings” and unprofessional behaviour.

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