EUObserver is reporting that a confidential and highly damaging report on OLAF’s conduct of the investigation into allegations of corruption against Health Commissioner Dalli - by OLAF's own supervisors - has been sent to the European Parliament.
The "Dalligate" scandal has been rumbling on for a few months now in Brussels. Allegations of dodgy dealings on the part of Commissioner Dalli over his upcoming tobacco legislation and the snus (oral tobacco that is legal in Sweden but banned in the rest of the EU) industry led to his resignation in October last year. Dalli denies the allegations that he asked for bribes in return for legislative changes and hitout against Commission President Barroso, who effectively forced him in to resigning. Dalli is currently facing legal action in Malta.
In 2013 the scandal took an unexpected turn, however, when it was alleged that OLAF, the anti-fraud agency that launched the investigation against Dalli and published the report that led to his resignation, broke the law by acquiring communication information illegally (such as telephone information). It also came to light that the source of information for the meeting where Dalli supposedly asked for the bribe contacted OLAF to tell them that the meeting had never taken place, but OLAF allegedly told her to not tell the public. However Green MEP José Bové was told that Gayle Kimberley, the source, had not been to the meeting, driving OLAF back into the spotlight.
Despite the uproar over the handling of the case by OLAF and its head, Giovanni Kessler, with a proposal by the European Greens that the Parliament launch its own investigation (by setting up a committee of inquiry) into how the case was conducted. However the European Parliament dropped the idea on 11th April, with the EPP, S&D and ADLE groups against an inquiry – a blow for MEPs who had been calling for Kessler to resign.
But now the confidential report by the OLAF supervisors has breathed new life into the story. As EUObserver reports:
"[The report] accuses [Kessler's] office of conducting unlawful interrogations in Malta, of intercepting a private telephone conversation, of involving the help of Maltese authorities without a proper legal basis and of overlooking or rushing checks on the legality of its actions in order to speed up the outcome.[...]
Given the complexity of the case, his [Kessler's] hastiness calls into question whether Olaf could have fulfilled all the necessary checks on the legality of its decision and on the credibility of the accusations, the report notes.
The supervisors add that commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wanted the investigation to get top priority.
In a violation of Olaf's duty to remain independent of Barroso's people, Kessler formally designated the commission as the source of the information on the basis of which he launched proceedings.
In a further violation of Olaf procedure, he made the designation despite the fact the information actually came from Swedish Match.
The supervisors also accuse Olaf of instructing the key Dalligate witness - a Maltese-based lobbyist called Gayle Kimberley - to lie."
With such a high-profile case (and a high-profile scalp in the form of a Commissioner), the serious questions over the handling of this case is deeply damaging to OLAF. While it's important to make sure that the court proceedings in Malta aren't interfered with, it's vital that there's a proper investigation into the conduct of this case. OLAF, as the anti-fraud office, is supposed to be irreproachable, and there has to be public confidence that it is able to carry out its functions independently, and in line with the rule of law. The European Parliament has to return to the issue of setting up a committee for inquiry.