The Malta Independent 25 April 2017, Tuesday

Editorial: Egrant - Wasn’t it OK to have a company in Panama, PM?

Thursday, 20 April 2017, 10:29 Last update: about 4 days ago

Following fresh allegations by Daphne Caruana Galizia, who is an independent blogger besides being one of our columnists, that she has more than an inkling on who is the ultimate beneficiary of the infamous Panamanian company Egrant, the Prime Minister went out of his way to underline that neither he nor any member of his family are the secret owner of the third company. He even stopped in his step when chased by a PN journalist to threaten him with libel if he dared say that Egrant is his.

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A year ago, when hell broke loose with the Panama Papers and everyone expected Konrad Mizzi to step down from cabinet, the Prime Minister defended his favourite apostle by saying that he (Mizzi) did nothing illegal. Joseph Muscat repeated the same line when members of the European Parliament moved a motion to this effect. His stuck his nails deep into this line like a life saver; "Konrad Mizzi did nothing illegal." He did concede, back then when the political heat started to become unbearable, that what Konrad Mizzi and his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri did when they opened secret companies in Panama and the BVI a day after they won the election in 2013, was politically insensitive. But until now, opening a company in Panama and claiming to deposit a million euro each year was all well and good for a minister, by Muscat's standards.

So one wonders why the Prime Minister has become so concerned at being seen as the possible owner of a company in Panama. Why did he feel the need to address the PL's general conference to disassociate himself and his family from the notion of having a company registered in Panama? What has changed over the course of the past eight months?

Although Mrs Caruana Galizia hasn't yet let the 'lamb' out of the bag (pun intended), one thing has surely changed for the Prime Minister in the ugly mess he found himself in. Caruana Galizia has connected the dots and is alleging that money from Azerbaijan has flown into the secret companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri. This is still to be proven by Caruana Galizia, and Schembri opened a libel case impromptu on the matter. The Prime Minister had travelled to the corrupt State of Azerbaijan and sealed a deal for refined gas supplies, a hedging deal which saw Malta lose €14 million.

Even if he is not directly involved in any transfer of funds into secret Panamanian companies, Joseph Muscat knows all too well that it is time to distance himself from whatever is set to be revealed by Caruana Galizia. Like in previous scenarios, if he's put with his back against the wall, he will drop anyone around him to save his skin, especially on the eve of an election in which he needs to prove that his policies will give him a bigger majority than the one he obtained four years ago. The real question is whether he is in a position to ditch Mizzi and Schembri. Will he go down with them should he decide to let them go?

 

 


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