AG told to close case in overlong Dalligate bribery prosecution

Silvio Zammit was accused of trading in influence and complicity in requesting a €60 million bribe from a Swedish tobacco company

The ruling in favour of restauranteur Silvio Zammit was handed down by the Court of Constitutional Appeal, which confirmed a decision by the civil court in its constitutional jurisdiction
The ruling in favour of restauranteur Silvio Zammit was handed down by the Court of Constitutional Appeal, which confirmed a decision by the civil court in its constitutional jurisdiction

A high court ruling has declared that the man accused of trading in influence and complicity in the request of a €60 million bribe from a Swedish tobacco company, had his human rights breached when the Attorney General refused to declare his evidence closed.

The ruling in favour of restauranteur Silvio Zammit was handed down by the Court of Constitutional Appeal, which confirmed a decision by the civil court in its constitutional jurisdiction.

Zammit was accused in 2012 of having requested the bribe from snus manufacturer, Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council, a lobby group, in a bid to convince then European Commissioner for health John Dalli, to lift an EU ban on the smokeless tobacco, which is legal in Sweden but banned from being sold in other European countries.

The scandal had forced Dalli to resign after the European Anti-Fraud Agency, OLAF, claimed the Maltese politician was aware that his name was being used by Zammit to solicit the bribe.

In its decision, the Court said that the law courts hearing the compilation of evidence against Zammit could not delay the process any longer over the inability to summon a witness, who is based in Belgium, to testify in the proceedings.

It said the Attorney General, who appealed the decision that found for Zammit, had the onus to bring the ESTOC secretary, Inge Delfosse, to testify in Malta and not use this snag as an excuse to let the case gather dust on a shelf.

The criminal case against Zammit – a one-time canvasser of Dalli – was filed by the Malta police in 2012 but the Attorney General has so far refused to declare his evidence closed after the last witness refused to testify in the bribery case. No charges were filed against Dalli, even though former police commissioner John Rizzo said the police had enough evidence to proceed against the former European commissioner.

Zammit then filed a constitutional reference in 2016, claiming that his case had been unnecessarily delayed by the prosecution’s refusal to declare its evidence closed.

In his application, Zammit said the prosecution had declared that the only remaining witness, Inge Delfosse, was refusing to travel to Malta and testify as she risked incriminating herself.

Delfosse was an employee of the smokeless tobacco lobby ESTOC, who had recorded Zammit on the telephone making his second request for a bribe. The evidence was used by the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF to push forward its case.

Zammit’s lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta argued that this was a breach of his right to a fair hearing and that there was no other option but to declare the evidence closed.

The AG argued that the constitutional reference was “premature” and the delays were down to the defence’s decision to file the constitutional case, but the Court of Constitutional Appeal said this did not preclude the AG from hastening the pace of the case.

It agreed with the findings of Judge Anna Felice in the first court, who observed that the AG did not need to wait for the conclusion of criminal proceedings against the accused to decide whether the delays would likely lead to a breach of his right to a fair hearing.

“The Attorney General’s argument – that Delfosse was refusing to testify is the fault of the applicant who had filed a police report against her in Belgium – is unacceptable,” Madam Justice Felice had said.

“This, in addition to the fact that… Delfosse had already declared that she didn’t wish to testify before the report was made.”

 “Either the AG is going to obtain the deposition of the remaining witness quickly and with the greatest efficiency, or he would have to proceed without her. The compilation of evidence cannot remain stationary indefinitely in the hope that at some point Inge Delfosse is going to testify,” Felice had ruled.

With the Court of Constitutional Appeal having confirmed a violation of Zammit’s right to justice within a reasonable time, the breach would continue to subsist until the prosecution obtains Delfosse’s deposition or declares its evidence closed.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta appeared for Zammit.

More in National

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe