Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has challenged blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia to provide the documents she alleged to have showing that his wife, Michelle Muscat, is the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of Egrant Inc. He promised to be filing for libel against Mrs Caruana Galizia, something he said he has done only once before in nine years of public life, he said.
Egrant Inc is the third Panamanian company that was acquired by Nexia BT, whose managing director is Brian Tonna. He facilitated the acquisition of three Panama-based companies, Hearnville Inc, Tillgate Inc and Egrant Inc, through the services of Mossack Fonseca. The first two belonged to Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. Panama is a financially secretive jurisdiction, with the Panama Papers scandal exposing of the world’s elite conceal their wealth.
Mrs Caruana Galizia alleged that one of the daughters of the Azerbaijani leader, Leyla Alijeva, through an offshore company, transferred large sums of money to all three companies, and that she transferred US$1.017 million to Egrant.
PM muscat on Egrant and DCG from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.
The Prime Minister categorically denied the claims, and said that he holds Opposition leader Simon Busuttil accountable for this “attack” on his family.
“This is the biggest political lie that was ever said in the history of Malta. I stand here again, before all Malta and Gozo and categorically deny in my name, in the name of my wife, in the name of my family that I ever, have, a type of company or account not declared in Malta or outside of these islands”.
Dr Muscat called a snap press conference just minutes after Mrs Caruana Galizia made the claims. Members of the press were given a ten minute’s notice in order for Dr Muscat to “categorically” deny these claims, and announce that he will be taking legal action against Mrs Caruana Galizia.
“I add that, I never signed, nor my wife, any type of document that transfers, any type of a company to me, I never signed, I was never offered to sign.”
Mrs Caruana Galizia alleged that there are two separate documents to back up the claims she had made but has failed to reproduce them on her personal blog.
“I cannot allow a lie like this to continue, especially as it’s relayed by Simon Busuttil and his media. I am here to be extremely clear, that if there is any form of proof, this comes out. I challenge her to prove what she is saying immediately.”
He challenged, not just Dr Busuttil and Mrs Caruana Galizia, but any member of the public to come forward with information. He stressed, multiple times throughout his address, that any documents provided would have to go through a rigorous authentication process.
Asked by The Malta Independent whether, for the sake of transparency and to clear his name in the eyes of the public, he would be issuing a full investigation into Pilatus Bank, he said that, “there are authorities who decide themselves to inquire or investigate. I categorically deny the allegations made against my family.” Dr Muscat said that if we start interfering with Malta's financial services, the public will be negatively impacted, "and not Joseph Muscat."
The institution responsible for investigating financial crimes is the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit. In addition, the Malta Police Force also has an economic crime’s unit.
Dr Muscat said that the Panama Papers scandal as revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) proves that the claims alleged by Mrs Caruana Galizia are a complete fabrication. He argued that the ICIJ did not shy away from naming other state leaders, such was the case of the Icelandic Prime Minister who had to resign, therefore if the claim was indeed true, the ICIJ would not have shied away from publishing it one year ago, when the scandal broke.
He then said that he is disappointed with the situation because such allegations act as a deterrent for today’s youth to enter politics.
“I will fight the political fight with the truth, not with fabricated lies”.
He said the truth will all come out in a court of law, and it will expose how this is the “biggest political lie in Malta’s history”.
Mrs Caruana Galizia's allegations about the Prime Minister and Michelle Muscat:
Mrs Caruana Galizia alleged that in a safe at Pilatus Bank, “documents are held pertaining to Russian clients of the bank, and to Maltese PEPs, including John Dalli, consultant to Prime Minister Muscat, and Keith Schembri…both of whom have accounts in the bank in their own personal names”.
She also alleged that in a safe in the kitchen at the bank, there are documents which prove that Egrant Inc’s shares are held by Mossack Fonseca [the Panamanian law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers scandal], as a nominee for Michelle Muscat. She claims that in another two documents, the declarations of trust and the account opening form, also prove that Mrs Muscat is the ultimate beneficial owner.
Chairman of green party Alternattiva Demokratika Arnold Cassola, in reaction, demanded that she publish any documents since “Maltese democratic values are at stake”.
“Publish all the documentation ASAP to substantiate your words, Maltese democratic values are at stake!”
Leader of the newly formed Partit Demokratiku Marlene Farrugia took to social media to say that “in the light of the serious allegations that were made against the family of the Prime Minister, and involve the Panamanian company Egrant, I ask the police to immediately launch an investigation, including an investigation into the other two companies that were opened at the same time [one belonging to Minister Mizzi and the other to Mr Schembri]”.