Advocate General Maciej Szpunar has recommended that the grounds of appeal brought forward against the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) by former European Commissioner John Dalli 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,” Szpunar wrote.
This is the latest in a string of court cases that Dalli brought before the European Court of Justice. In this latest appeal, Dalli asked the Court to reconsider the judgment of 6 June 2019, whereby the Court had concluded that there were indeed grounds for an investigation into his conduct as European Commissioner.
A hot €60 million
The case dates back to the 2012 bribery scandal in which Dalli was embroiled. That year, tobacco producer Swedish Match complained that Silvio Zammit, a Maltese businessman with ties to Dalli, had requested a bribe of €60 million from the European Smokeless Tobacco Council, a lobby otherwise known as Estoc, to ensure that Dalli would kill an EU law banning the sale of snus tobacco.
The complaint prompted the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, to launch an investigation into allegations that Dalli’s meeting with tobacco lobbyists was inappropriate.
The investigation, which ended on 15 October, found that while there was no evidence that money had changed hands, and no decision-making processes were jeopardised, Dalli knew what was going on – a claim Dalli strenuously denied.
Following the investigation, the president of the European Commission at the time, José Manuel Barroso, sent for Dalli on October 16 2012 and Dalli’s career as Commissioner came to an end. Dalli has always claimed that he did not resign but was fired — an important legal distinction in his fight for compensation.
Banging on the court’s door
In December 2012, Dalli filed a claim for damages with the EU’s General Court. His legal team sought the annulment of Barroso’s “oral decision […] to exercise his prerogative to require the applicant to submit his resignation as a member of the Commission.”
Dalli also sought €1.9 million in damages.
On May 12 2015, the EU Court of Justice presented their conclusions in Dalli’s unfair dismissal case. “The Court finds that Mr Dalli resigned voluntarily, no formal request for his resignation having been made by President Barroso,” the court ruled.
Dalli went on to appeal this decision in July 2015 but it was dismissed in April 2016.
In June 2017, Dalli then brought another action before the General Court for compensation for the damage caused to him, in particular non-material damage, caused mainly by the alleged unlawful conduct of the Commission, including OLAF, over the immediate termination of his appointment as a Member of the Commission in 2012.
Again, the former EU Commissioner applied for compensation to the tune of €1 million as well as requesting that the decision to force him to resign taken by Barroso be annulled.
In June 2019, the Court rejected each of the seven claims made by Dalli and concluded that the investigation was warranted, adding that an investigation by OLAF was only opened where there were “sufficiently serious suspicions relating to acts of fraud, corruption, or other illegal activities detrimental to the financial interests of the Union”.
The argument put forward by Dalli in his latest appeal is that OLAF improperly obtained information from Malta to further the investigation.
But Szpunar has advised the Luxembourg-based high court to reject that argument, noting that “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”.
A final ruling on Dalli’s present case is expected later this year.