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Who Is John Dalli And What’s This €60 Million Bribery Case All About?

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John Dalli, better known as Johnny Cash, is set to face charges over an attempted €60 million bribe from a smokeless tobacco lobby group to help overturn an EU-wide ban on snus.

It’s been almost a decade in the waiting, with years of investigations, claims, and counterclaims finally resulting in action being taken against the former EU Commissioner. 

For many, the finer details of the case would have got lost in the swell of scandals and allegations that have flooded the Maltese political scene. 

With that being said, here’s a look at the snus case and why it’s taken so long for Dalli to face the Maltese justice system. 

A Maltese accountant-turned-politician, Dalli served in a long line of Nationalist governments between 1987 to 2010 before moving onto the European Commission.

Dalli’s flirtations with scandal were nothing new when the snus bribery case erupted in 2012. He’s a political octopus whose tentacles have spanned almost three decades of alleged corruption, whether it’s his links to Pilatus Bank, the sale of Mid-Med bank, or dodgy government deals.

Still, he was appointed EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy in February 2010. 

Dalli’s house of cards came crumbling down on 15th October 2012, after the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) passed on its first accusations that Silvio Zammit, Dalli’s longtime associate, had asked for €60 million from the European Smokeless Tobacco Council and Swedish Match, the main producer of Swedish snus, in return for Dalli’s help in changing European tobacco regulation.

Swedish Match was the one to report the claim to OLAF. At the time, Dalli was leading reforms to the EU’s tobacco directive.

The tobacco lobby also allegedly solicited the help of Gayle Kimberley, an official at the Council of Ministers on leave.

Dalli was forced to resign a few days later. The EU, in its capacity, could not conduct criminal charges and passed the information to Malta.

Despite denying all knowledge of the bribe, Dalli did meet with tobacco lobbyists at Peppi’s Restaurant, which is owned by Zammit, in February 2012. OLAF’s investigation was opened soon after that meeting.

The report had found that Silvio Zammit had approached the company Swedish Match, through contacts with Dalli, and sought to gain financial advantages in exchange for influence over a possible future legislative proposal on the tobacco product snus.

There’s even an actual recording of one of these alleged extortion attempts, in which Zammit asks a tobacco lobbyist from ESTOC for €10 million. The woman is so shocked, she tells Zammit she’s “almost lying down”.

However, no transaction was concluded and no payment was made.

It should be noted that OLAF’s handling of the investigation, which was mainly based on circumstantial evidence, which included illegal wiretaps, has received stinging criticism from MEPs, Dalli, and others since its conclusion.

“There is no conclusive evidence of … Dalli as instigator or mastermind. Nevertheless, there are a number of unambiguous and circumstantial pieces of evidence … that he was indeed aware of the requests,” said then-OLAF director-general Giovanni Kessler.

Dalli has even sued Kessler for defamation, accusing the former OLAF director-general of colluding with then-Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi over the issue before he was forced to resign. 

He has repeatedly denied all accusations, regularly insisting that there was a conspiracy to get him removed from the role. 

Zammit was charged with bribery and trading in influence in December 2012, something which he still remains in court over till this day. The delays in the case have long raised eyebrows, with Zammit even taking the issue up with the constitutional courts. 

John Rizzo, who was Police Commissioner at the time, has confirmed that he planned to arrest, interrogate, and prosecute John Dalli over the affair in 2012. However, Dalli had not returned to Malta during the period.

Rizzo has revealed that he even informed the then newly elected Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia of the plans a few weeks after the Labour government was elected in March 2013. 

Current Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa had even written up a charge sheet, which may explain why charges have finally been issued against Dalli almost a decade later. 

“In the meeting, I made it clear that we had enough evidence to prosecute John Dalli,” Rizzo told the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

A week later, Rizzo was removed and replaced with Peter Paul Zammit. Dalli returned to Malta the next day. Rizzo’s replacement Peter Paul Zammit, whose wife is a relative of Dalli, ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to continue with the case.

He eventually returned shortly before Labour returned to power in 2013 but has never been charged in court. 

The case seemed dead and buried up until developments this week. Dalli will face the courts on Friday 17th September in front of Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo at 12pm. 

He has vociferously denied the claims, continuing to point at a conspiracy. We’ll wait for the sitting to see what new details will be revealed. 

What do you think about the latest case?

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Julian is the Editor at Lovin Malta with a particular interest in politics, the environment, social issues, and human interest stories.

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