Health and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi will be sacked immediately if two ongoing audits find that he has not told the truth on the Panamanian company scandal, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said this evening.
Speaking on TVM’s Dissett, Dr Muscat also insisted that, should Mizzi be cleared, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil would have to shoulder responsibility for the unfounded claims he has thrown around.
Konrad Mizzi has been under fire for the last two weeks in what has been dubbed as Panamagate after the minister was revealed to own a company in Panama. The OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri has also set up a company in a country which was blacklisted by the European Union. The Opposition has been calling for their resignation ever since the scandal emerged two weeks ago.
Dr Muscat insisted he had taken the necessary steps after the existence of Konrad Mizzi’s Panamanian company was revealed. “There is an independent audit, which has already commenced, and an investigation by the Tax Commissioner who, unlike the PN claims, has every right to obtain information from New Zealand because of an agreement between the two countries.”
The Opposition Leader was claiming that Dr Mizzi set up the Panamanian company to “deposit millions made from corruption. The Minister had defended himself and explained that the company holds no assets but people were right in demanding stronger assurances, Dr Muscat said.
“There is this box which, according to Simon Busuttil contains millions. Konrad Mizzi has denied this. Currently, an investigation is underway to open that box and see what lies inside. If the box really has millions in it Konrad Mizzi will be sacked immediately. If it turns out to be empty, people will still say that the money was transferred before the investigation started. That is why there is an investigation, to see if there is money in the box, or if it has since been removed and where to. If this is the case, Konrad Mizzi will be held responsible. However, if it turns out that the box never contained any money all responsibility would fall on Busuttil, who would have lied to Parliament.”
Schembri’s circumstances 'different'
Asked if Keith Schembri, should also commission an audit, Dr Muscat said his Chief of Staff’s case were totally different. “Keith Schembri is not an elected person and is involved in business.” Mr Schembri he said, had resigned his directorships, but still had business interests, as declared.
“I am convinced that, legally, there was no wrongdoing. But in politics correctness is more important. Saying that no law was breached is not enough – I have a duty to protect the interests of the people. Both Konrad and Keith are friends of mine but I still expect an investigation as well as correctness and accountability. I am not just taking their word for it. There is also the tax commissioner and the independent audit.”
The Prime Minister agreed that Konrad Mizzi could have exercised better judgement. He said he believed that the only reason why the PN had come out with the story now, and not close to the election, was because it knew that Konrad Mizzi would have declared the company in his declaration of assets by the end of this month. Had he declared it before the story came out, there would have been no story at all, the PM asserted.
Dr Muscat said he wanted to consult with the opposition on a Law on Standards. He suggested the creation of a new system whereby ministers and MPs would declare any new financial structures immediately, and not wait until the following March to do so. Asked if a new Commissioner for Standards should investigate Konrad Mizzi, the PM said that it would be up to him. “But if it turns out that Konrad Mizzi did not say the truth then there will not be much to investigate at all because he would have been sacked.”
Dr Muscat said the Panama issue had hurt and annoyed him. “Firstly because I believe that the persons involved are genuine individuals. The advice they were given (by Nexia BT) was legally correct but politically naïve and very insensitive, and they (Mizzi and Schembri) followed it. It also hurt me because three years down the line, and one day after it emerged that Malta is experiencing record economic growth, people are speaking about this instead, and rightly so.”
Brian Tonna of Nexia BT
The PM denied using a different yardstick in the case of other ministers, like Manuel Mallia and Michael Falzon. “I always take my decisions after investigations are carried out and I have all the facts in hand. I will not take such a decision based solely on what the Opposition Leader says and what people think. You have here before you a Prime Minister who did what others before him failed to do. I removed people from cabinet. I held myself to the highest standards but I took the necessary decisions only once I had all the facts in hand. Konrad Mizzi is my friend but if the stories turn out to be true I will sack him.”