Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi confirmed the existence of a “shell company” registered in Panama, which is contained within a trust set up in New Zealand.
Blogger and Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia initially revealed that the trust set up in New Zealand by Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi contains a shell company which has been registered in Panama, a country blacklisted by the European Commission for its preferential tax regime.
The trust, he said, did not hold any funds or assets - although the purpose of a trust is to manage wealth - but owns a shell company which has never been used. He did not say where the shell company is registered.
In comments to this newsroom he said that the trust, set up in 2015, acquired the “pre-existing shell company,” meaning that the offshore company in Panama existed prior for an unspecified amount of time prior to the setting up the trust.
He said that neither the trust nor the company holds any assets or bank accounts.
“I have always been and will always be transparent in my state of affairs. I have consistently followed the procedures in line with the requirements of the declaration of assets. Prior to entering politics my family and I have lived overseas and I have always worked relentlessly and achieved results,” Dr Mizzi said in comments to The Malta Independent.
He also said that Panama was chosen on the advice of his consultants:
“The trust currently owns shares in a company which is currently dormant and is registered in Panama, a jurisdiction which was suggested to us by our advisers. This company has never been used and has no assets or liabilities. This pre-established shell company which has never traded, was acquired off-the-shelf in 2015 from the service provider.
“This process was carried out by the same professional advisors and it may be used in the future to hold our property. Currently the trust does not have any bank accounts. The Trust was set up for long-term family asset management and inheritance.”
Dr Mizzi made the initial trust announcement after claims surfaced on social media.
In comments to the press, he confirmed that the trust had been set up in 2015, and that he will be declaring it to Parliament as part of his declaration of assets.
He said that the beneficiaries of the trust are himself, his wife and his children. However Mrs Caruana Galizia asserts that he is not, in fact, a beneficiary. She said that around the time the trust was set up, the government, "working through Parliament," removed the requirement of Cabinet ministers to declare their wife's assets to Parliament. The implication here, with Dr Mizzi not being a beneficiary of the trust, is that he is under no obligation to declare the trust to parliament.
Dr Mizzi said he set up the trust to manage the family's assets, and then said that the trust holds no funds or assets. Mrs Caruana Galizia raised the question:
"If he still plans to make these assets, and has set up the trust in anticipation of making them, then how does he plan to do this? He is a Cabinet minister on a cabinet minister's salary. His wife is a Malta government employee on a state salary."
She alleges that Dr Mizzi's wife, Sai Mizzi, had to know about the company registered in Panama, and goes on to say that this is the leverage the public has been wondering she has over her husband.
“I have always strived to hold myself to the highest standards and will continue to do so,” said Minister Mizzi.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has since backed Dr Mizzi, saying that he has no problem with the New Zealand family trust and that he would have cause for concern had Dr Mizzi failed to declare the trust in the first place.
Minister Mizzi is known to be a close ally of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.