Earlier this summer, on July 11, Commissioner John Dalli was informed by hand delivered letter from the Director General of OLAF Giovanni Kessler that he was “considered to be a person concerned in an OLAF investigation related to the attempts to invoice the company Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council (ESTOC) through an intermediary in paying a bribe to obtain the lifting of the EU ban on snus and to have met with interested parties, lobbyists and economic operators to discuss subjects related to the snus case in a possible infraction of the rules governing the impartiality of the Members of the Commission.”
In this context, OLAF investigated John Dalli twice, 16/07/2012 and 17/09/2012. The interviews were conducted in utmost secrecy by the Giovanni Kessler, Edoardo Cano Romera (Investigator in charge) and Cvetelina Cholakova (Legal Officer). For both cases, written records were kept and countersigned by all participants in the each interview and from such written record none of the above claims were proven explicitly or implicitly. During the procedure, other persons were interrogated by OLAF in Brussels and in Malta and nothing was found against John Dalli.
On Thursday, October 11, John Dalli was asked to meet with President Jose Barroso on October 16, at 04:00 pm. (Note that according to the European Commission press release the report came into the hands of the Commission President on October 15, while the meeting had been arranged four days earlier). During the meeting Jose Barroso read to John Dalli a cover letter of Giovanni Kessler saying that they had concluded the investigation and did not find any conclusive evidence against Dalli. According to the report, no meetings or contacts ever took place between the Commissioner and the industry and the decision making process was not influenced at all.
Indeed, the Tobacco Directive, which the tobacco industry considers a matter of life and death and wants at any cost to block, is due to go to the final stage of approval and ente r into effect on Monday , October 22. Under the circumstances, if John Dalli resigns, the Tobacco Directive process will be delayed for at least two years, if not forgotten, to the great satisfaction of the tobacco industry.
During the four o’clock Barroso-Dalli meeting of yesterday (October 16), Barroso asked Dalli to resign, otherwise he threatened that he would dismiss him. Dalli said, first that he, as the party concerned of the investigation never received the OLAF conclusion report and never was invited, according to the OLAF procedure to comment on the report before its release to the authorities and that in any case the report did not include any accusation but simply proving his innocence.
Under the circumstances, we presume that OLAF did not follow the procedure of sending the report to Dalli and invite him to comment as he was innocent and therefore any comments on his part would be useless as the report was proving his innocence. The action of OLAF to send the report to the Maltese Prosecutor is logical as while John Dalli was proven innocent, there certainly are others who may not be, particularly those that attempted his entrapment (possibly in order to postpone or cancel the Tobacco Directive).
Taken by surprise, John Dalli asked from Jose Barroso 24 hours to consult with his lawyer and his family. Barroso refused categorically and told him, “you have three quarters of an hour as at 17:00 pm I will issue a press release. You have either to resign or I will dismiss you by five o’clock”.
After he returned in his office John Dalli prepared a statement defending himself which he sent to the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition of Malta and asked me to distribute it to the press through our network as his Cabinet did not have the technical capacity to do so.
New Europe published the statement, and forwarded it to members of the press at the request of the Commissioner’s office.