Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

From Dalligate to Olafgate: supervisors condemn EU anti-fraud office

The EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, violated its mandate and broke EU laws in its "Dalligate" probe, according to a leaked report by its own supervisors.

The leaked paper - a five-page executive summary of a more extensive study, seen by EUobserver on Tuesday (23 April) - says the "independence of Olaf especially vis-a-vis the [European] commission was not safeguarded, a fact that is of special significance, since the commission was an information source."

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  • Supervisors say Kessler broke EU laws and compromised the integrity of the investigation (Photo: European Commission)

Drafted by Olaf's supervisory committee, a body of four independent experts which monitor the office, the full report is currently under lock and key in the European Parliament.

Access is only granted to the presidents of the assembly's political groups, who must sign a non-disclosure agreement before they read the text.

They are then allowed just three hours to thumb through the paper, which sources say is both intricate and long.

For its part, the executive summary lays out a damning verdict of Olaf's handling of a four-month investigation last year which led to the removal of EU health commissioner John Dalli over allegations that he solicited a bribe from a tobacco firm.

It calls into question the impartiality of Olaf chief Giovanni Kessler.

It says his direct and personal participation in the probe constitutes a conflict of interest "in which an objective assessment of the measures taken by Olaf ceased to be possible."

It accuses his office of conducting unlawful interrogations in Malta, of intercepting a private telephone conversation, of involving the help of Maltese authorities without a proper legal basis and of overlooking or rushing checks on the legality of its actions in order to speed up the outcome.

Timing and the designated source of Olaf's information are of importance.

Kessler sprung into action after he got a letter on 25 May 2012 at 8.15pm local time from the European Commission’s secretary general.

The letter outlined bribery allegations against Dalli made by tobacco firm Swedish Match on 21 May 2012.

Dalli had allegedly asked for €60 million to lift an EU ban on the firm's top product, a mouth tobacco called snus. He denied the allegations, but was later forced to resign.

The Olaf supervisors say Kessler launched his formal investigation within 24 hours of getting the commission letter.

Given the complexity of the case, his hastiness calls into question whether Olaf could have fulfilled all the necessary checks on the legality of its decision and on the credibility of the accusations, the report notes.

The supervisors add that commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wanted the investigation to get top priority.

In a violation of Olaf's duty to remain independent of Barroso's people, Kessler formally designated the commission as the source of the information on the basis of which he launched proceedings.

In a further violation of Olaf procedure, he made the designation despite the fact the information actually came from Swedish Match.

The supervisors also accuse Olaf of instructing the key Dalligate witness - a Maltese-based lobbyist called Gayle Kimberley - to lie.

Kimberley in February of this year informed Olaf that a meeting in which a Dalli associate was said to have asked for the bribe in fact never took place.

But Olaf allegedly told her not to disclose this to the wider public - a charge which Kessler's office denies.

The report says Olaf requested from the Maltese authorities the transmission of itemised telephone bills related to the case, a list of incoming and outgoing telephone calls, as well as the holders or users of other telephone numbers.

The data was used in the investigation despite being obtained without any legal basis, it notes.

The illegally-acquired evidence "impaired … in an undue manner important fundamental rights … and breached … numerous [EU] data protection provisions," the supervisors add.

Maltese media reports that Dalli himself has returned from Brussels to Malta, where he faces criminal proceedings in an ongoing court case.

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