Former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi refused to sign off on a request by investigators to tap former EU Commissioner John Dalli’s phone at the height of a €60 million bribery scandal in 2012, Times of Malta can reveal.
Sources privy to Gonzi’s decision said the then prime minister’s refusal to authorise the phone tap left investigators “frustrated”, as it closed off an avenue to gather further clues about Dalli’s activities.
The request to authorise the security services to secretly listen in on Dalli’s phone conversations was made soon after he stepped down as health commissioner in October 2012, due to an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF.
Dalli resigned from the powerful role within the EU’s executive as a result of OLAF’s suspicions he was aware a former aide of his had solicited a €60 million bribe to help overturn an EU-wide ban on the smokeless tobacco known as snus.
At the time, Dalli was responsible for revising the EU’s tobacco directive.
Maltese investigators sought permission to tap Dalli’s phone conversations in a bid to bolster the case they were building against him and his aide Silvio Zammit.
Although recordings from phone taps are not typically admitted as evidence in court, the intelligence gleaned from recorded conversations can help investigators develop further leads to bolster their case.
All requests for phone taps have to been signed off by the home affairs minister or the prime minister.
The involvement of politicians in authorising phone taps has long drawn criticism by international circles, including the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body.
Gonzi feared tap would be seen as political
Sources said Gonzi’s decision not to greenlight the security services tap in 2012 boiled down to him fearing it would be interpreted as a vendetta against his political rival.
Dalli placed second in the PN’s 2004 leadership contest, losing out to Gonzi, who went on to become prime minister after Eddie Fenech Adami stepped down.
A few months after the bitter leadership contest, Dalli resigned as foreign minister for allegedly channelling some €80,000 in travel bookings by his ministry to a company owned by his daughters.
Contacted for comment about why he refused to sign off on the Dalli phone tap, Gonzi said the Official Secret Act and Security Services Act precluded him from answering.
“However, as a rule and without referring to this specific request, the reasons for a decision taken on such matters is explained to the representative of the security services,” Gonzi told Times of Malta.
He declined to say whether he regretted his decision to appoint Dalli to the European Commission in the first place.
Dalli’s aide was prosecuted over the alleged bribery attempt. Dalli, however, managed to avoid charges for nine years.
The Dalli investigation was only re-opened following the appointment of Angelo Gafà as police commissioner last year.
Gafà was one of the lead investigators on the case back in 2012.
As the case against Zammit started in December 2012, Dalli continually postponed meeting investigators, claiming he was unable to travel to Malta from Brussels because of a medical problem that saw him requiring “psycho-social care”.
At the time, then police commissioner John Rizzo was determined to prosecute Dalli over the alleged bribe that had been solicited by Zammit.
The police’s case against Dalli was derailed after newly elected prime minister Joseph Muscat removed Rizzo as commissioner in April 2013.
In a stunning U-turn, Rizzo’s successor Peter Paul Zammit declared soon after Muscat appointed him as police commissioner that there was not enough evidence to proceed against Dalli, who had since returned to Malta.
Far from shunning any ties to the former EU commissioner, Muscat appointed Dalli as his consultant on health three months after his return to Malta.
Muscat had justified the appointment by saying he could not afford to let a man with Dalli’s capabilities and experience go to waste.
What became of the case against Silvio Zammit?
Last year, a court confirmed Silvio Zammit’s rights had been breached because prosecutors refused to declare the evidence against him in the ongoing case closed.
The criminal case against Zammit was filed by the Malta police in 2012, but the attorney general has refused over the ensuing years to declare his evidence closed after the key witness in the compilation of evidence against Zammit, Inge Delfosse, refused to travel to Malta to testify, fearing she risked incriminating herself by doing so.
Delfosse was an employee with snus producer Swedish Match.
She had secretly recorded Zammit requesting a bribe to help overturn the snus ban.
The prosecution’s insistence on having this witness testify, in spite of her persistent refusal, had prompted a constitutional application by Zammit’s defence team, arguing that the stalemate constituted a breach to their client’s fundamental right to a fair hearing.
A decision forcing prosecutors to close their evidence against Zammit was overturned by a constitutional court in March.
What does Dalli say?
Dalli has always maintained his innocence, claiming he was the victim of conspiracy to frame him.
The former EU commissioner says he had no idea Zammit was asking for money on his behalf to help overturn the snus ban.
OLAF’s chief at the time, Giovanni Kessler, said the evidence pointed towards Dalli knowing what Zammit was up to.
Dalli has lost a string of court cases against the European Commission over his resignation in 2012.
He is expected to be formally charged in connection with the case on September 17.
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