The Malta Independent 26 March 2019, Tuesday

Malta has been shamed: Mizzi, Schembri must be removed – Simon Busuttil

Helena Grech Monday, 4 April 2016, 18:19 Last update: about 4 years ago

Malta has been shamed in the eyes of the world, with Konrad Mizzi being the only minister from a European Union country to be named among a long list of dubious people mentioned in the Panama Papers, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil said this afternoon.

Addressing a press conference outside Parliament building, Dr Busuttil said there is only one option for Dr Mizzi and also for the OPM chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who has also been embroiled in what has become known as the Panamagate scandal – and this is their removal from office.

If Muscat does not have the will to remove Mizzi and Schembri, he should resign, Dr Busuttil said.

The call for the removal of Mizzi and Schembri is not the first that the PN is making, but it gained more force today in the wake of revelations made by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which led to the release of a vast trove of documents and data on offshore financial dealings of wealthy, famous and powerful people including Dr Mizzi.

Dr Mizzi has since argued that the release of the documents dubbed ‘Panama Papers’ has proved that he was saying the truth all along – specifically that the Panamanian company owned by his trust in New Zealand holds no bank accounts.

While this is true, Dr Mizzi failed to respond to new information presented by the Financial Review where it said that both Mr Schembri and himself tried to open up bank accounts for their companies through two banks in Panama and Dubai, but was refused.

It was revealed that the pair were denied the bank accounts by both banks because of their status as politically exposed persons.  

Dr Busuttil spoke of the three main reasons for the banks’ refusal to open up bank accounts for their Panamanian companies: the banks wanted assurance that what is deposited into the account does not come through corrupt means, that the origination of deposits come from before they entered office and lastly, they required clarification on the reason provided for opening up the accounts.

Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, when questioned by the bank as to the sources of revenue for the bank accounts they tried to open up, said the Panamanian firm’s provided ‘management consultancy and brokerage’ services.

Jumping on this point, Dr Busuttil questioned the legitimacy of providing such services while in public office:

“While in government, what brokerage services are you going to conduct if it is not corruption? Is it income from brokering the Enemalta contract? From the Gozo hospital contract? Could it be from the cash-for-citizenship scheme? Or possibly from the sale of visas to Algerians? Is it from the new power station, or possibly from the buying of gas for the new power station?” he said.

The fact that Dr Mizzi is one of the most powerful ministers in Government, and that he has been responsible for negotiating the biggest contracts in Malta over the past three years was not lost on Dr Busuttil. Neither was the fact that these contracts remain secret and away from public scrutiny. He reiterated that brokerage services coming from persons employed in public office can only come from bribery and corruption.

He questioned whether Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri attempted to open up bank accounts in other countries, besides Dubai and Panama.

Dr Busuttil said that he does not exclude the possibility that the PN presents a vote of no confidence in the government.

Asked why he thinks Muscat has remained silent on the issue, Dr Busuttil said that the PM has either lost control of the situation completely or else he is part of the corruption that has hit the government.

Dr Busuttil made reference to the Swiss Leaks scandal last year, were it was found that Maltese members of government and prominent figures held undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland.

In the wake of that scandal, Dr Muscat had said that he would immediately remove any member of his party that were found to hold undeclared bank accounts. Dr Busuttil therefore questioned why he has dragged his feet on taking action against Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri when the Panamagate scandal broke weeks ago.

He made reference to a statement released by the Party of European Socialists, (PES) which is affiliated with the Labour Party, in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal. PES unreservedly condemned the 140 politicians which were found to have holdings in the blacklisted Panama through the assistance of Mossack Fonseca, the very same company to assist Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi open up their financial structures.

This condemnation, Dr Busuttil said, extends to Dr Mizzi as he forms part of the very same group.

Individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, former Egyption dictator Hosni Mubarak and deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadaffi were all found to hold corrupt holdings in blacklisted Panama.

Involvement of PM’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri

A number of questions were raised by Dr Busuttil in relation to Mr Schembri’s involvement in the scandal. Drawing attention to the fact that Mr Schemri already holds a secret company in the British Virgin Isles, he questioned what interests he could have to open up another secret company in Panama, and whether he could have done this for another person.

“These questions are of enormous gravity. There is no doubt that today, at the top levels of government, in the heart of Castille, a long shadow of doubt and corruption has been cast, which directly hits upon Dr Mizzi, Mr Schembri and Prime Minister Muscat.

“This shows, that at a minimum, the clear intention of this [the opening up of secret companies with the intention of opening up secret bank accounts] was bribery,” Dr Busuttil said.

“The consequences of such corruption are dire for our country. Today there is uncertainty, everybody is talking about the secret companies of panama held by Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri. We cannot remain in this uncertainty – this government stained our country’s international standing.”

Dr Busuttil angrily questioned why the police have remained silent in the wake of such discoveries, and what action they will be taking.

“We are expecting investigations to be conducted by the police. What is the police commissioner doing? Why haven’t we heard of the launching of an investigation?

“We also have no idea whether local authorities have asked the ICIJ for more information about any Maltese possibly involved in this scandal.”

He made reference to the protests and calls for resignation for the leaders in Iceland and Ukraine, and questioned why Dr Muscat is dragging his feet and remaining silent when action is being taken overseas. 

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