What brings together a circus promoter and pizzeria owner from Malta, the European Commission, tobacco lobbyists, bribe requests, Christian investors, gold pool Ponzi schemes and miners from Africa? The answer is simple: the former EU Health Commissioner, John Dalli.
In a tale that never stops spinning, Dalli has managed to be at the centre of business dealings that would fascinate any soap opera screen writer. In the absence of any interested telenovella producers, this tale has certainly fascinated OLAF investigators for the last five years.
In an article published by the New York Times last week, a new episode in the Dalligate saga has emerged. While in office as EU Commissioner in 2012 (and while already under investigation by OLAF for alleged requests for bribes made to the tobacco industry), Dalli was found to have also been working on a Ponzi-like investment scheme, conning US investors into financing a Gold Pool scheme allegedly supporting Christian miners in Africa.
By associating himself with the promoters of this scheme, Dalli gave credibility to the investment proposals and made the scheme seem trustworthy in the eyes of investors. After all, why not invest in a scheme that is promoted by an EU Commissioner in office?
A second OLAF investigation, as well as a parallel inquiry by the FBI, uncovered that over $1.5m was wired by investors to a company directed by Mr Dalli’s daughters, and registered at the office of the Dalli family in Malta. The money trail then evaporated and investors have been trying to recuperate their funds ever since, but to no avail. They cooperated with OLAF and the FBI and reported the case to the Maltese police to get back their money.
It seems, however, that the Maltese judiciary has made no progress in any of the cases concerning Dalli. One case concerning the tobacco bribes has been dragging in the local court for years, and the new facts reported by OLAF last summer do not seem to have prompted any concrete action yet.
It is known that judiciaries are slow, especially in small member states where political affiliations run deep, but one cannot but wonder why the European Commission who received the second OLAF report last summer has still not reacted in any way.
Will it issue any reprimands? One can hardly imagine a “no comment” line in a situation when a standing Commissioner was found to have advertised gold pool investment schemes as a side job.
Or will the Commission allow its reputation to be continuously tarnished by Dalli, who for years created a smoke screen to hide his obscure dealings and took everyone to court – from the Commission itself to the investigators who brought his illicit activities to light? If the European Commission even fails to react to such revelations with a strong hand, all we’re left with is impunity.