Updated - Adds written statement by John Dalli

John Dalli has rejected as a “blatant lie” a story in the International Herald Tribune this morning which reported that the Former European Commissioner travelled to the banking haven of the Bahamas to move millions of dollars.

“This is absolutely a blatant lie,” Mr Dalli said in a brief phone comment on his way to Sweden, where he was invited to address an anti-tobacco conference.

He even said that the journalist reporting had “misunderstood” what he had told him. When passages from the report were read – he said he was unaware of it at the time of the call – Mr Dalli said: “No, no absolutely not, I think he misunderstood. It must be.”

The newspaper quoted a Bahamas resident Barry Connor – who rented Mr Dalli’s family a villa on the island – saying that he recalled being told by Mr Dalli that he planned to transfer “large amounts” of money for an unspecified venture.

According to the report, when asked about sums of up to $100 million, Mr Dalli said the money was not for him, that he was acting on behalf of other people who wanted to set up a “trust” and that the project was “very personal” and “very confidential”. Its purposes, he added, was to “help people in Africa”.

Mr Dalli insisted with Timesofmalta.com that he had only spoken about helping people set up a philanthropic beneficial trust and that not a single cent has been transacted right to this day.

He said he had met nobody from the financial institutions.

When asked why he had taken such an arduous trip to the Bahamas – he travelled 16,000 kilometres between July 7 and 9 via Malta and London Heathrow Airport – Mr Dalli said simply that this is how he operated.

“I didn’t even spend time in the Bahamas, I met these people – who needed my advice on setting up the trust – on the plane,” he said, insisting that his advice in this case was given voluntarily.

He said the idea to set up this charitable trust was still ongoing and that there may be developments in the near future. However, he would not disclose who was investing the money or which projects the funds were destined to.

“These are private things, it’s not a matter of governments and that sort of thing,” he said.

WRITTEN STATEMENT

Later in the afternoon Mr Dalli issued a written statement where he further explained his position. He said

On Friday I received a telephone call from someone who presented himself as a journalist from the International Herald Tribune. He told me that Commission staff were spreading a story about a visit I made in the Bahamas in July 2012.

I told the caller that I had no bank accounts in the Bahamas or any other jurisdiction except in Brussels where I received payments from the Commission and in Malta where my pension payment is deposited.

I explained that I was assisting someone on a voluntary basis to organise a philanthropic initiative. I am currently dedicating time at present, still on a voluntary basis, to conclude the projects that are being set up so that when funds become available this initiative can be launched. These funds are promised from private sources.

I fail to understand the relevance of this enquiry to my termination by Barroso from the Commission.

In the report sent by OLAF to the President in October 2012, they assert that no money has ever changed hands between the participants in the SNUS affair, except for the €5,000 paid by Swedish Match to their Maltese Consultant.

In July 2012, OLAF had already started its investigation and interviewed key witnesses. I do not think there could have been the slightest possibility that money would change hands after that.

If the information that such rumours are being spread by the commission staff are true, this will show that the Commission is still intent to cast shadows on my integrity and are clutching at straws, resorting to these pitiful tactics when all the information that has been uncovered and that is being uncovered are raising serious questions in many quarters about the handling of this affair.

A report has today been published by the IHT with a lot of insinuations. It is not true that I was trying to move millions of dollars. These millions of dollars did not exist. We discussed the planned philanthropic project which would require some funds management and Mr. Conner was suggesting that the trust he had in the Bahamas could be used. I asked how trusts in the Bahamas worked.

It is also not true that a villa was rented for my family. The villa was rented from Mr. Conner by a company managed by my daughter.

As to not declaring the trip, this was a private trip and my cabinet was informed that the trip was made."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE REPORT

The brief July trip was a follow up on an earlier stay in the Bahamas during which Mr Dalli stayed in a four-bedroom villa rented at $8,000 a month.

A copy of the lease seen by The New York Times showed that the villa, Seaview Beach, was rented to Claire Gauci Borda, one of Mr Dalli’s daughters, on July 14, 2012.

The newspaper said that Mr Dalli, according to one Commission official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, concealed his July trip to the Bahamas by phoning officials to say that he intended to spend the weekend in Malta to see his family.

The EU Anti-Fraud agency (OLAF) – which has been severely criticised over the past months over the handling the Dalligate investigation – said it did not know of the trip and that it would look into the matter “suggesting it could reopen its investigation”.

Mr Dalli was forced to resign from the Commission in October after an OLAF investigation claimed there was “unambiguous circumstantial evidence” suggesting that he knew his canvasser Silvio Zammit had asked for a bribe in his name.

Mr Zammit was later arraigned in connection with the case and is pleading not guilty to trading in influence for allegedly asking tobacco company Swedish Match for €60 million to lift a ban on snus – a smokeless form of tobacco which can only be sold in Sweden under EU rules.

“As is usual practice, OLAF will duly consider any relevant new evidence, within its remit of competence,” the office said in a statement sent by e-mail to the newspaper.

It said that even so, Mr Dalli’s philanthropic mission does echo the description by Mr Connor, the Bahamas landlord of some of the family’s activities and their guests, some apparently from church groups in the United States.

“Normally you get some people coming here with some sort of scheme, and they’ve got investors and they’re all going to do this and do that,” Mr Connor said in a telephone interview. “No” he said, “they just had money coming and they were going to invest it into charities.”

“It was not like they were looking to make money - they were looking to spend money, which is the reverse” of what people normally are seeking when they arrive in the Bahamas, he said.

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