The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

Updated: Keith Schembri present for PM Muscat’s meeting with EP delegation

Kevin Schembri Orland Friday, 1 December 2017, 11:07 Last update: about 14 days ago

OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri was present during a meeting Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had this morning with a European Parliament delegation at the PM's office in Castille.

The EP delegation, made up of members of the EP's PANA and LIBE committees, had asked for different meetings with Muscat, Bonnici and Schembri, but they preferred to attend one meeting. Schembri had refused to meet the PANA committee last February, and there was intense pressure for him to accept an invitation to meet the EP delegation.

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It was the only meeting to which the media had access for the first few minutes, during which only PM Muscat and head of delegation Ana Gomes spoke. 

MEP Ana Gomes mentioned that Malta has not implemented the 4th anti-money laundering directive. She said that there are various reports and prosecutions have not yet taken place following the Panama Papers revelations.

She said that Malta is also one of the countries also blocking the 5th anti-money laundering directive due to transparency of beneficiaries.

She mentioned that the MEPs had the opportunity to speak with civil society, and the feeling that too many powers are centralised in the executive, and spoke of separation of powers being essential.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on his part said that a lot of information the MEPs were given were partial and one-sided, resulting in a misunderstanding of the Maltese justice system.

He mentioned that the media in Malta is highly politicised. He said that the government has nothing to hide.

Turning to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, he said that he was unable to provide information about it, given the letter sent to the Home Affairs Minister by the Caruana Galizia family. He said that government is leaving no stone unturned, and has called in help from foreign authorities such as Europol.

On the 4th anti-money laundering directive, he said it is being discussed in Parliament. He went on to mention a number of government reforms, including the whistleblower act, the removal of time barring for cases of corruption, etc.

After the meeting, the Department of Information released the statement which Muscat read in his meeting with the EP delegation.

"We are engaging with you as a sovereign state, because we believe that most of the information you were fed was partial, its analysis one sided, and conclusions misguided. Because we have nothing to hide, as we already did previously, we are willing to engage, as we do regularly with Council and the Commission. This relates to both the unfounded allegations being levelled at us, and to the misunderstanding of our legacy taxation system.

"Unfortunately, the usefulness of this visit is rather questionable since many of you have already made statements and voted on a Motion for Resolution, before coming to ascertain facts. As you have noticed in your own reports, Malta’s political system and media are highly polarised. It is therefore quite astonishing that you chose to meet a very partial representation of public opinion. Nevertheless, I can assure you that we are totally united in our horror at the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a very vociferous critic of mine as she was of many, including as of recently, the Opposition.

"Given that the only significant event since your last visit was this despicable event, we take it that you are mostly interested in this. May I reiterate that we are leaving no stone unturned, with help from Europol and foreign services to catch the perpetrators. The investigations are being carried out by the police and are supervised by an independent Magistrate, who seems to enjoy the trust of the victim’s family, according to the rule of law.

"We would have liked to share with you any information we could about the investigations, but we have to note a letter which the family sent to the Minister for Home Affairs, cautioning him not to disclose any information in Parliament, and threatening him with criminal actions. This is unfortunate, since the Minister was only repeating publicly available information in response to a question by the Opposition, but we will strive to respect the family’s wishes. Our resolve to deliver justice is second to none.

"Finally, in your statements you have frequently referred to the rule of law.  Allow me to list only a few reforms that this government delivered: a Whistleblowers’ Act, hailed as one of the best in Europe; a scrutiny system for appointees to the judiciary; Parliamentary scrutiny for regulators and ambassadors; the removal of time barring for politicians in cases of corruption, which makes such cases prosecutable at any time; legislation regulating party financing, where we were the last EU Member State without such a law since it kept being postponed for more than a quarter of a century; new artistic freedom laws decriminalising all forms of artistic expression and new media laws doing away with criminal libel, among others."

MEPs from the PANA and LIBE committees of the European Parliament are in Malta holding meetings with various top officials, following a rule of law debate held in the European Parliament.

PM Muscat MEPs from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

The PANA committee was set up to investigate money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance issues following the Panama Papers revelations, while the LIBE committee is responsible for civil liberties, justice and home affairs.

The delegation is in Malta to assess concerns raised at a European level about the rule of law in the country following a European Parliament sitting held last month.

During the debate, MEPs from all political groupings criticised Malta before overwhelmingly voting in favour of a resolution urging the Commission to open talks with Malta about the rule of law in the country. The debate was held following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October.

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