The report compiled by the EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, which led to the departure of John Dalli from the European Commission, must be published immediately. The issue will not go away until there is full disclosure. And while this fails to happen, the situation is unfair on Mr Dalli, Silvio Zammit and the public, as well as casting a shadow on the Commission’s approach to transparency.
For all its well-oiled and well-paid public relations machinery, the EU has made a rather amateur job of disseminating information about this case to the public. Statement has followed statement but conspicuous by its absence has been the vital golden thread that must hold them together: documented evidence.
We have been told by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso that it is there; we have been told by the head of OLAF that it is there; and we have been told by several spokesmen. But more than 10 days on from Mr Dalli’s departure being made public, we have been not been told what that evidence is.
What we have had is an amplification of the allegations contained within the report – well, allegedly, since we do not know what they are – from a host of sources ranging from the Swedish tobacco company to the Wall Street Journal, which has claimed to have been told some of the details.
This is a wholly unsatisfactory situation. The European Commission has declared the case closed and, unfairly, placed the onus on the Maltese authorities – who did not initiate this investigation – to publish the report if they see fit. Yet it will only be closed after all the questions this affair has raised have been met with credible answers.
Prolonging the inevitable – the report must be published eventually – undermines the EU’s credibility and promotes all sorts of conspiracy theories and doubts over the operations of the European Commission and OLAF.
Though people could reasonably assume that the Commission would not have taken the step it did lightly, the EU should have known that its word and that of the investigator who produced the conclusions on Mr Dalli, Giovanni Kessler, would not be enough in the longer-term to remove doubts.
For several reasons: Firstly, Mr Dalli’s exit is to an extent, unprecedented, and therefore requires unprecedented transparency. Secondly, Mr Dalli has consistently rejected the OLAF conclusions.
Save for some unnecessary actions, Mr Dalli’s public rebuttal of the statements made by the OLAF director general were to be expected since he declared from the start that he would strive to clear his name.
Thirdly, this scandal involves the tobacco industry, which is of the most powerful and aggressive lobbies in Europe. As Mr Kessler himself admitted, questions over whether Mr Dalli could have been the victim of entrapment by this industry were foreseeable. It is in the Commission’s interest to quash them convincingly with the evidence it has told us is in its possession.
Mr Dalli also has a right to be given a full explanation of what he is accused of. As things stand today, OLAF and the Commission have unleashed a most damning claim about him without revealing the reasons that underpin that.
There may be legal reasons that have kept the OLAF report confidential. But these have been undermined to a large extent by the direction the war of words, as well as various leaks about its contents, have taken.
There is only one way to resolve this: publish, and let whoever is in the wrong be damned.
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