The man at the centre of corruption investigations that brought down former European Commissioner John Dalli was charged in court yesterday with bribery and trading in influence.

Silvio Zammit, 48, from Sliema, a former deputy mayor of his hometown, stood in the dock emotionless as his lawyers Kris Busietta, who also happens to be a Sliema local councillor, and Melvyn Mifsud, a former Nationalist Party election candidate, fought for bail.

Mr Zammit, a restaurateur and circus impresario, was arrested on Monday morning and was arraigned by Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Cassar and Inspector Angelo Gafà yesterday morning.

In an unusual occurrence, lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office – Lara Lanfranco and Philip Galea Farrugia – also attended the brief sitting.

The case first hit the headlines in October when the former PN minister, an accountant by profession, was forced to resign from his post as European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs following an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF.

The investigation report was never released but the European Commission and OLAF had said there was “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” that Mr Dalli knew that a former canvasser of his – later named by the Maltese press as Mr Zammit – had asked tobacco firm Swedish Match for money to lift a ban on Snus. This is a form of chewing tobacco that under present EU rules can only be sold in Sweden .

During submissions on bail, Mr Gafà argued that Mr Zammit should be kept in custody because a key witness, lawyer Gail Kimberley, who represented Swedish Match in Malta, had been approached and told what to tell the police.

He added that the court should also consider the “very serious nature” of the crime.

Dr Busietta, on the other hand, downplayed the charges, arguing that one of them carried a maximum punishment of 18 months, which prompted Mr Gafà to comment that the other carried a maximum jail term of eight years.

The lawyer told the officer not to be so rude as to interrupt him and, in a raised voice, Magistrate Miriam Hayman told Dr Busietta to calm down and make his point.

Dr Busietta said bail should be granted, especially since the investigation had been going on for “weeks, if not months” and if Mr Zammit really wanted to tamper with evidence it would have already happened.

He noted that Mr Zammit always obeyed police orders during the investigation and went to the police headquarters when asked.

At this point, Magistrate Hayman asked to speak to the prosecution and defence counsel at the Bench and then ruled that Mr Zammit should be remanded in custody until the most important witnesses had testified.

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