Scandal-Plagued Former EU Politician Loses Last Appeal in Bribery Case

The nearly decade-old scandal involves a former circus owner soliciting bribes from smokeless tobacco companies on behalf of the EU’s then-health commissioner.

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

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union’s former health commissioner John Dalli lost his final appeal before the bloc’s high court Thursday in a nearly decade-old bribery scandal.

On Thursday, the European Court of Justice upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the veteran Maltese politician’s claim for 1 million euros ($1.2 million) in damages stemming from his resignation following accusations of fraud in 2012. 

“Since Mr. Dalli claims that the General Court distorted evidence by misreading certain documents, it should be pointed out that, while a distortion of the evidence may consist in an interpretation of a document contrary to its content, it is not sufficient, in order to establish such a distortion, to show that that document could have been interpreted differently from the interpretation adopted by the General Court,” the five-judge panel wrote.

In 2012, the EU’s anti-fraud office, known by its French acronym OLAF, found that an associate of Dalli’s, circus owner and political operative Silvio Zammit, attempted to facilitate a 60 million euro ($67 million) bribe from a Swedish smokeless tobacco company in exchange for lifting an EU-wide ban on the product.

The smokeless tobacco product snus is so important 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. 

Dalli, who denied any knowledge of the bribe, claimed that he was illegally forced from his post. In 2015, the EU’s lower court, the European General Court, found that Dalli resigned voluntarily, a decision that was upheld in a 2016 appeal. A second lawsuit, in which Dallie demanded financial compensation for what he alleged was his wrongful termination, was snuffed out by the lower court in 2017. 

The Court of Justice upheld that ruling Thursday.

“It follows from the court’s case-law…that, where it is not established that unlawful conduct may be attributed to an institution of the union, the action for damages must be dismissed in its entirety without it being necessary to examine the reality of the damage or the existence of a causal link between that institution’s conduct and the damage invoked,” the ruling states.

Earlier this year, an adviser to the court wrote that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the General Court’s decision. Though nonbinding, the Luxembourg-based court follows the legal reasoning of its magistrates in about 80% of cases. 

In a related case, the Court of Justice ruled earlier this year that the General Court erred when it sided with former OLAF head Giovanni Kessler over the rescission of his immunity from prosecution.

During the investigation into Dalli, Kessler allegedly listened in to a conversation with a witness via speakerphone. Though the information wasn’t used in the investigation, Kessler’s actions violated Belgian wiretapping laws, which come with a two-year jail sentence. That case was returned to the lower court for reconsideration. 

%d bloggers like this: