EU court dismisses Dalli case
A former EU health commissioner, accused of soliciting bribes from mouth tobacco maker Swedish Match, lost his case against the European Commission for unlawful dismissal.
Judges on Tuesday (12 May) dismissed the case brought before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg by John Dalli in December 2012. The General Court ruled that "Dalli resigned voluntarily".
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The Maltese national said he was forced out of office on 16 October 2012 following allegations he helped broker a deal to water down EU-wide tobacco legislation in exchange for €60 million.
The scandal erupted after the European Commission, headed at the time by Jose Manual Barroso, announced to press that Dalli had agreed to resign of his own his will. Barroso said Dalli had become “politically untenable” and had to go.
But Dalli, who has always maintained his innocence, said he was forced to resign, not given the opportunity to study the charges brought against him by the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf, and unable to defend himself as a result.
“I asked him [Barroso] to give me the possibility to consult a lawyer, to get some sort of legal advice … I asked for 24 hours. He looked at his watch and he said ‘I’ll give you 30 minutes’,” Dalli told a panel of five judges at the Luxembourg-based court last July.
The €60 million deal to lift the sale ban on Swedish Match’s flagship product snus did not take place.
But Olaf linked Dalli with a local middleman who solicited the bribe from the Swedish mouth tobacco producer.
Olaf’s five-month probe based the accusations “on unambiguous and converging circumstantial evidence”.
The lack of explicit evidence, coupled with the anti-fraud office’s questionable investigative practices, soon attracted broad criticism from transparency NGOs and leading MEPs in the parliament’s budgetary control committee.
Olaf has since been accused of illegal wiretapping.
The allegations took a more serious turn when Belgian prosecutors issued a request to suspend the diplomatic immunity of senior Olaf officials implicated in the affair, reported the Sunday Times over the weekend.
Dalli has since returned to Malta, where the drama continues to play out in national media and courts.