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23rd Sep 2018

Court testimony implicates former EU health chief

  • Dalli was at the time revising EU-wide rules on tobacco and has accused the tobacco industry of masterminding his dismissal (Photo: lanier67)

The head of the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf, Giovanni Kessler, arrived in court in Malta on Tuesday (17 March) as a witness in a tobacco scandal that saw a former EU commissioner forced out of office.

Kessler presented the court with new testimony in a case that dates back to 2012 when Malta’s then EU commissioner for health, John Dalli, was ousted over an alleged attempt to lift a sale ban on mouth-tobacco snus in exchange for €60 million.

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The sale of snus is restricted to Sweden but has an estimated EU-wide market value of some €500 million.

Dalli, who has always maintained his innocence in the affair, was at the time revising the EU-wide rules on tobacco and has accused the tobacco industry of masterminding his dismissal.

He left his post in October 2012 after a tense exchange with the European Commission president of the time, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Olaf was tipped off to possible wrongdoing in early 2012 and launched an investigation that later implicated Dalli, an EU-official-turned-tobacco-lobbyist Gayle Kimberly, and Maltese businessman and restaurant owner Silvio Zammit.

Only Zammit has so far been charged.

The latest twist in the on-going saga is new testimony from two former officials in Dalli’s cabinet.

According to Malta Today, Kessler told the jury that Dalli had inquired about lifting the snus ban during internal meetings with his staff.

“Two commission officials [Joanna Darmanin and Paula Duarte] told us that Dalli, in a formal meeting of the cabinet, tried to push for lifting the ban on snus, which issue at that time was not controversial,” Kessler told the court.

He added that “the two witnesses, Joanna Darmanin - at the time chef de cabinet of John Dalli - and Ms [Paula] Duarte gave two interviews, records of which I don’t have with me but can be provided, said that Dalli, on two occasions on 24 January 2012 and 28 February 2012, pushed for the lifting of the ban, or he tried to see what was necessary to do so.”

Olaf told this website it was unable to immediately confirm the statements reported by the paper because the hearing was still ongoing.

But Dalli soon afterwards accused Kessler of perjury for having made the accusation.

The former commissioner denied having proposed lifting the snus ban and says Kessler fabricated the Darmnanin and Duarte testimonies.

Instead, Dalli says that on 28 February he had signed off an impact assessment with his staff and DG Sanco, the commission branch that deals with health-related policy.

That impact assessment included a ban on the sale of snus, he notes.

"This is documented and can be verified. This is perjury and I expect the police to take action," he said in a statement.

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