Silvio Zammit, the man at the centre of the bribery scandal that brought down former EU health commissioner John Dalli, asked for €60 million to have the European-wide ban on smokeless tobacco lifted, a witness to the request said yesterday.
The request was made in a meeting between Mr Zammit, who was a friend of Mr Dalli, and Johan Gabrielsson, a representative of smokeless tobacco manufacturer Swedish Match, the firm’s consultant Gayle Kimberley told a court.
The Maltese lawyer gave details of the meeting as she testified yesterday against Mr Zammit, 48, from Sliema, who is pleading not guilty to charges of bribery, trading in influence and relapsing
Mr Zammit was investigated by local police following a probe conducted by the EU Anti Fraud Agency OLAF, whose resulting report forced the resignation of Mr Dalli from the European Commission.
Dr Kimberley, the former head of legal services at the Gaming Authority, said she first got to know Mr Zammit through Iosif Galea, a colleague at the authority.
Her involvement began when she received a phone call from Mr Gabrielsson, who offered her consultancy work connected with the banning of smokeless tobacco snus. She was well versed in these issues and had spent time working in Brussels.
Her job for Swedish Match was to present legal, scientific, competition and technical arguments to lobby for the lifting of the ban.
Mr Gabrielsson also asked her if a meeting could be set up with Mr Dalli to discuss the issue.
Dr Kimberley said she consulted her colleagues and Mr Iosif to see if this could be done and the answer was positive. This led to a meeting in January last year.
She said she met Mr Zammit and Mr Galea outside Cleland and Souchet at Portomaso, in St Julian’s, and they went to Mr Dalli’s office in the same complex.
During the 40-minute meeting, Dr Kimberley presented her arguments to Mr Dalli and was surprised at his receptiveness.
Asked why she was surprised, she said that in Brussels there was a reluctance to talk about snus and for him to actually listen was something out of the ordinary.
Despite the fact that he was ready to listen, Mr Dalli was very sceptical because of the corporate interests involved.
A second meeting was requested by Swedish Match but this did not take place. Going through Mr Zammit, she asked on behalf of the company if Mr Dalli would consider appointing a liaison officer from his staff to facilitate the matter.
Sometime later, Mr Zammit told her that this was not possible and that any dealings would have to be done through him.
He told her that it was a business deal they were working towards and not some cause like feeding African children, she said.
She informed the company of this and Mr Gabrielsson came to Malta to meet Mr Zammit.
In the meeting, held at Mr Zammit’s restaurant Peppi’s, the accused told Mr Gabrielsson that the company would have to pay €60 million to have the ban lifted, Dr Kimberley said.
The company then declined to pay and stopped any dealings with him.
Defence lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta, appearing for Mr Zammit, had earlier tried to have Dr Kimberley prohibited from testifying.
They argued the OLAF report had explicitly recommended that the Maltese authorities charge her with trading in influence and bribery.
The lawyers argued that since she could be considered a “co-author” in this matter, then she was an inadmissible witness.
Police Inspector Angelo Gafà said that criminal proceedings would not be pursued against her due to lack of evidence but if new evidence should emerge then he did not rule out taking action.
Magistrate Anthony Vella noted that proceedings had not been initiated against her, which made her an admissible witness.