The Malta Independent 26 February 2017, Sunday

Editorial: Brian Tonna and Karl Cini are warned

Friday, 17 February 2017, 08:44 Last update: about 8 days ago

Next Monday, the PANA Committee is due to arrive in Malta and begin investigating the Panama Papers allegations with regards to Malta and Maltese persons.

As revealed in the Malta Business Weekly yesterday, the committee last week visited the UK and after Malta it will visit Luxembourg and the United States.

It does not look as if anyone in the UK has been arrested as a consequence of this PANA visit.

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Nor would it seem will any Maltese person end up in jail as a result of this visit.

The main persons the committee is looking forward to meet – Minister Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri – have not confirmed they will accept the committee’s invitation but Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, as we report in this issue, has strongly hinted they would do well to attend.

But two persons that the committee is very eager to meet – Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini – have already said they decline to meet the committee.

This paper assumes they have taken legal advice and any legal advice would tell them they can refuse to go. The European Parliament committee has no power to sub-poena them and force them to attend. So any legal advice Messrs Tonna and Cini have got is right.

But the committee also carries considerable political weight. This is something that may not figure in the advice the two were given, but we would counsel them not to disregard it.

After all, former Commissioner Gunther Verheugen, who was also Vice-President of the Commission, refused at first to appear in front of the committee but then faced huge political pressure and ended up going to meet them. And that was Verheugen, who carried a big stick in Brussels in his time.

The pair, and not just they, must realize the damage all this is causing to Malta’s good name where financial services are concerned. One has to look at the broad picture: for many years Malta had to battle against the perception it is an offshore financial centre. After a very long struggle, Malta made it to the topmost level of financial centres and was certified as such by all the important rating agencies.

Then this government got elected and came up with the passports for cash scheme. That was when people abroad sat up and began examining Malta under a lens. This scheme could introduce to European citizenship and Schengen people from outside Europe who could have a murky background. The first warning bells were rang.

But then came Panama Papers and Malta earned the dubious honour of having the only minister in the EU caught with an offshore company in Panama, of all dubious jurisdictions.

And, instead of doing what any other prime minister would do in the circumstances Prime Minister Muscat flatly refused to sack Konrad Mizzi or Keith Schembri, thus reinforcing many doubts in people’s minds.

It would seem that both Mr Tonna and Mr Cini, who seem to have the prime minister’s trust, have allowed themselves to be carried away by the prevalent atmosphere of defiance over at Castille and even outbid their betters by flatly refusing to meet the Pana committee.

More than bad, this is stupid, as they risk finding out for themselves.

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