Sunday

17th Nov 2019

Investigation

Part III: Actors assemble for EU melodrama

The new EU health commissioner’s first known contact with a tobacco lobbyist was on 20 August 2010 at the five-star Kempinski Hotel on the Maltese island of Gozo.

John Dalli was still in his swimming trunks, he later recalled.

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  • Street art in Sliema, Malta (Photo: EUobserver)

Silvio Zammit had brought along Tomas Hammargren, who worked for British American Tobacco (BAT) and who was also the chairman of the snus-makers’ lobby, Estoc.

Zammit organised the encounter on behalf of an associate whose boss was BAT’s director in Malta, Charles Saliba.

“Dalli allocated time to talk about smokeless [tobacco] with us during his vacation,” Hammargren noted in his Estoc debriefing - one of many files contained in a report on the lobbying scandal by Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office, which was leaked to Maltese media in 2013.

Next to the name “Silvio Zammit”, Hammargren scribbled “very close friend to JD [John Dalli]”.

But the 15-minute “off-the-record” meeting was a dud.

Hammargren added that Dalli said he had been “strongly advised” not to meet with tobacco companies.

"JD's objective is to fight tobacco related diseases and lower the cost for treatment of tobacco related diseases. JD explained the issue being tobacco and nicotine leading to all the problems. This means that snus is as much a problem as smoking.”

The meeting was one of several things thrown in Dalli’s face when he was confronted by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso two years later.

Dalli says he had no idea who Hammargren was when the tobacco executive approached him and can’t be blamed for Zammit’s initiative.

"Barroso made a fuss that I met this gentleman thousands of miles away from Brussels. What if I had met him on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean near some Greek island?," Dalli told media in 2014, referring to Barroso's own holiday retreat with a Greek shipping tycoon back in 2005.

The Kempinski meeting had other consequences.

The heart attack and the stray email

After doctors told Zammit to take time off following a heart attack in January 2011, he visited Europe and took budget flights to London, Rome, Ireland, Sicily, and Denmark.

When he returned from Denmark, he was received more bad news: The 46-year old brother of his good friend, Mario Mercieca, had passed away.

To help take Mercieca’s mind off his loss, Zammit bought Ryan Air flights to Nykoping in Sweden.

The flight was set to leave late on 20 October 2011. The same morning - Zammit later told Olaf - he recalled the Kempinski meeting in Malta a year earlier and fired off an email to tell Hammargren he was on his way to Sweden.

By then Hammargren was no longer at Estoc, so the email ended up in the mailbox of its new secretary general, Inge Delfosse.

“Suddenly I received a phone call from Inge Delfosse who said that we had to meet then. I did not know her until then, she was told by Mr Hammargren to meet me,” Zammit also told Olaf.

Delfosse, in her deposition to the EU anti-fraud office, says Zammit called her. But in any case, she invited him for lunch in Stockholm.

From Nykoping, Zammit amd Mercieca took a long train ride to the Swedish capital where they were picked up by Delfosse and by Rupini Bergstrom, the media director at snus maker Swedish Match.

After a quick tour of the city by car, they stopped for lunch where the tobacco lobbyists began to ply the merits of their product.

At some point during the meal, the lobbyists, according to Zammit, mentioned that their colleague at Swedish Match, Johan Gabrielsson, happens to know a lawyer in Malta by the name of Gayle Kimberley - a paralegal with seven years’ prior experience working for the EU Council in Brussels.

The Olaf files indicate that Zammit spotted a business opportunity.

The love affair

Kimberley had taken a sabbatical from her EU job and returned to Malta for personal reasons.

She started working at Malta’s Lotteries and Gaming Authority in January 2011. She's married to Matthew Kimberley but was having a love affair with Iosif Galea, a Malta gaming authority colleague and also a Zammit friend. Galea sometimes helped Zammit keep the books of his gambling business and to organise circus events.

The love affair would be of little interest to the Dalli case, but Olaf records show that Kimberley later CCd him in sensitive emails to Zammit and split a Swedish Match consultancy fee with both men.

Back at the Stockholm power-lunch, Zammit - knowing that Kimberley and Galea were together at that very moment - phoned his friend to joke about the extent of his contacts.

With Zammit holding on the line, Galea asked Kimberley if she knew anyone in Brussels who could help on the snus issue.

Kimberley later told Olaf: “After a while it came to my mind that a good colleague from the [EU] Council where I was working for several years, and also a friend of mine, is married to Mr Johan Gabrielsson”.

She dropped the name to Galea, who repeated it to Zammit.

Zammit also rang Dalli himself from the Stockholm restaurant.

At first the EU commissioner didn’t pick up. But about two hours later, Zammit called again and Dalli answered.

The phone calls did the trick.

Delfosse and Bergstrom gave Zammit the impression he could be their middle-man on getting the snus ban lifted.

“I realised that I could become a millionaire very easily if I worked and helped these companies to lobby for snus, and if I could be the main supporter of snus,” Zammit later told Olaf.

Kimberley gets on board

The Olaf files also show that in November 2011 Swedish Match’s Gabrielsson phoned Kimberley to confirm if she knows Zammit and if the Peppi's owner really knows Dalli on a personal level.

“He told me that if it was true that Silvio Zammit would have been able to organise a meeting with the commissioner, then Johan [Gabrielsson] wanted me to represent Swedish Match at that meeting,” Kimberley told the EU investigators.

In December, Gabrielsson and a colleague flew to Malta and met Kimberley at the Hilton to discuss lobbying opportunities.

Kimberley landed the consultancy job, even though she was still - technically - a lawyer working on the single market at the EU Council, a breach of the code of conduct for EU officials.

She then contacted Zammit who set up a meeting with Dalli on 6 January 2012, at Dalli’s office in St Julians, Malta.

The stage was set and the actors were in place for the EU melodrama about to unfold.

Part IV: EU judges, Maltese mysteries, and Christians in the Caribbean - will be published on Thursday 6 November

Part III - Actors assemble for EU melodrama

Part II - Malta's 'Mr Teflon'

Part I - From Peppi's to Barroso's

EU smoke & mirrors

EUobserver reporter Nikolaj Nielsen sheds new light on the Dalli lobbying scandal, which, by Barroso's own admission, threatened to bring down the EU executive, but which is not over yet.

Part I: From Peppi’s to Barroso’s

Part I of VIII: EUobserver takes a closer look at the Barroso commission's biggest scandal - tobacco lobbying and John Dalli - in events some say will haunt the EU "for the next 10 years".

Part II: Malta's 'Mr Teflon'

Part II of VIII: Prince William peers out of a black stretched luxury car as the vehicle turns down a street in Malta’s capital city, Valletta.

Part V: Dalli’s big tobacco theory

John Dalli claims that his tough stand against tobacco as EU health commissioner led the industry to pull levers inside the European Commission to get him ousted from office.

Part VI: A circumstantial EU hanging

The EU’s anti-fraud office has no evidence in its report nailing Dalli and his accomplices on bribes which never exchanged hands in any case.

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EU smoke & mirrors

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