EU Fraud Watchdog Says Dalli Was Aware of Bid to Sell Access

European Union anti-fraud investigators said John Dalli, who resigned yesterday from the European Commission, was aware of attempts by a Maltese entrepreneur to sell access to him, amid confusion over whether Dalli was pushed to stand down.

Dalli, whose responsibilities were for EU health and consumer policy, said today in a video interview with New Europe that he “refuted completely” the allegations made against him and was asked for his resignation by Jose Barroso, the commission’s president. While the commission declined to name the businessman involved, Dalli identified him as Silvio Zammit. The commission yesterday said Dalli had decided to resign to concentrate on fighting the claims made against him.

Giovanni Kessler, director general of the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, told reporters today in Brussels that the agency had uncovered “a number of unambiguous pieces of circumstantial evidence” indicating that Dalli was aware that a Maltese entrepreneur was seeking to sell access to the commissioner to lobbyists.

“At no stage did Commissioner Dalli take action to prevent or dissociate himself from the facts or to report the circumstances of which he was aware,” Kessler said. “He was aware of this and he didn’t do anything to prevent, stop, report this.”

Dalli’s resignation is the first time that a European commissioner has stood down over corruption allegations since the body’s entire membership resigned in 1999, after several members were accused of financial wrongdoing.

Swedish Match

OLAF’s probe into Dalli concerned a complaint by tobacco producer Swedish Match that the entrepreneur had offered to help them influence EU tobacco policy, notably regarding the smokeless-tobacco product snus, by “using his contacts with Mr. Dalli.”

“No transaction was concluded between the company and the entrepreneur and no payment was made,” the commission said. “The OLAF report did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr. Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events.”

News website Malta Today identified Zammit as a former elected official for the Maltese Nationalist party, the same political affiliation as Dalli. The newspaper cited a copy of an e-mail showing Zammit’s lobbying activities.

There is “no proof at all that I was involved,” Dalli said today in his interview with New Europe. The video of the interview was posted on the newspaper’s website.

EU Lawmaking

Dalli’s resignation “highlights the need for stronger measures to regulate EU lobbying,” Corporate Europe Observatory, a group seeking to monitor how special interests influence EU lawmaking, said in a statement on its website. The group’s statement also names Zammit as the entrepreneur at the center of the allegations.

“The European Commission is the focus of intense lobbying and many business lobbyists benefit from easy access and close contacts,” the group said in its statement. “This opens the door to the potential for corruption.”

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