EU Magistrate Urges Dismissal of Suit Over Scandal-Driven Ouster

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — A lawsuit over reputational damages brought by a former top EU official should be quashed, a European high court magistrate advised Tuesday.

John Dalli, former Maltese politician and European health commissioner, at the 2011 Christians in the Holy Land conference. (Photo by Catholic Westminster, CC BY 2.0, Link)

In the latest installment of a political corruption scandal that has spawned multiple cases before the Court of Justice of the European Union, an adviser to the court suggested Tuesday that a lawsuit brought ex-European commissioner for health and consumer policy John Dalli over allegations of bribery should be rejected. 

“I am of the opinion that a complaint based on precise and detailed information, as identified by the General Court, is sufficient to bring to light sufficiently serious suspicions and thus to allow an investigation to be opened,” Advocate General Maciej Szpunar wrote. The EU high court follows the legal reasoning in their magistrates’ opinions about 80% of the time. 

In 2019, the General Court — the EU’s lower court — tossed Dalli’s lawsuit. But the Maltese politician appealed, arguing that the EU’s anti-fraud office, known by its French acronym OLAF, improperly launched an investigation against him and he should be compensated for the damage to his reputation as a result.

The case dates back to a 2012 bribery scandal in which Dalli was accused of demanding a 60 million-euro ($67 million) bribe from a Swedish smokeless tobacco company to lift an EU-wide ban on the product.

Snus is such an important product in Sweden that the Nordic country fought for an exemption from an EU ban on oral tobacco when it joined the 27-member political and economic union in 1995. 

OLAF found that an associate of Dalli’s, Silvio Zammit — a circus owner turned political operative — attempted to facilitate the bribe. Following that announcement, Dalli, who denied any knowledge of the bribe, either resigned from or was forced out of his post. 

Moreover, Dalli argued that OLAF improperly obtained information from his home country of Malta to advance the investigation. But Szpunar advised the Luxembourg-based high court to reject that argument, noting “OLAF could legitimately ask the Maltese authorities for the telephone logs and the incompatibility of those requests with Maltese law cannot be attributed to OLAF.”

Now-former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Dalli verbally resigned to him, but Dalli claimed he was forced out. In a separate case, the lower court in 2015 found that Dalli was not forced out but resigned — a decision which was upheld on appeal in 2016. 

In another separate but related case, the high court ruled earlier this year that the General Court erred when it sided with former OLAF head Giovanni Kessler regarding the rescission of his immunity from prosecution.

During the investigation into Dalli, Kessler allegedly listened in to a conversation with a witness in the investigation who contacted another witness via speakerphone. The information wasn’t used in the investigation, but Kessler’s actions would be a violation of Belgian wiretapping laws, which comes with a two-year jail sentence. That case returned to the lower court for reconsideration. 

A final ruling on Dalli’s present case is expected by the end of the year.

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