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9th Aug 2020

EU commission pressured to release graft inquiry documents

  • Maltese former commissioner for health John Dalli was forced to resign in October 2012 (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Pressure is mounting on the European Commission to release documents in a graft scandal that saw a commissioner for health lose his job.

“The commission’s arguments for refusing to give access are not convincing,” said EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly in a statement on Friday (11 April).

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The case revolves around Maltese former commissioner John Dalli who was forced to resign in autumn 2012 following allegations of bribery by mouth tobacco producer Swedish Match.

Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud office, in a preliminary investigation had found “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” linking Dalli to the allegations.

It was enough to get him removed from office, sparking accusations from some MEPs that senior officials within Barroso’s cabinet had undue influence in the dismissal.

Dalli maintains his innocence, says he was unlawfully removed, and is now suing the commission at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.

To help shed light on the whole affair, Brussels-based transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) had requested the commission render public all documents related to Dalli’s departure from office.

The commission complied, in part.

It handed over most of the documents but then refused to release two letters and two internal notes, citing legal concerns and ongoing Maltese-led investigations at the time into the case.

The four documents deal with Dalli’s exchanges with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in the lead up to Dalli's forced resignation.

CEO then filed a complaint with O’Reilly.

O’Reilly, in a draft recommendation released Friday, pointed out the documents were never sent to the Maltese authorities in the first place as part of their investigation.

Malta dropped the investigation last summer because they found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

O’Reilly, who inspected the documents, also noted the text did not contain any information that was not already in the public domain.

“The commission has failed to explain how the disclosure of the documents would have undermined the investigation by the Maltese authorities and its own follow-up actions,” she said.

The commission has until the end of July to respond.

Antony Gravili, the commission’s institutional affairs spokesperson, said they are legally bound to hold onto the texts.

“It is not so much that we refused to release the documents, more that we were unable to release the documents,” he said in email.

He explained the documents were withheld to protect an investigation by the Maltese authorities, its own follow-up actions, and a separate on-going case in Luxembourg.

“The documents in question are ‘sub judice’ because of the court case in Luxembourg,” he pointed out.

Asked how the documents are related to an investigation in Malta if the Maltese authorities never received them, Gravili said he wouldn’t pre-empt the commission’s response “in a piecemeal way by reacting to individual points.”

He also noted that the Ombudsman has not addressed a final recommendation to the commission but only a draft recommendation.

O’Reilly’s office told this website it is a draft recommendation because the case is ongoing.

“There might be a final recommendation, for example in a special report. But it is of course a ‘real’ and ‘full’ recommendation in the normal sense of the word,” her office said in an email.

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