The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

BBC interview tears into PM calling him ‘Artful Dodger of Europe’, ‘passport-seller-in-chief’

Helena Grech Tuesday, 9 January 2018, 11:23 Last update: about 3 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat fielded difficult questions from BBC Newsnight’s James Sweeney where he was described as the “Artful Dodger of Europe” and the “passport-seller-in-chief”.

A feature was carried on the BBC programme about the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her life was tragically and deliberately snuffed out on 16 October in a car bomb just metres away from her Bidnija residence.

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So far, three men stand charged with the crime however the open secret on many people’s lips is who had them carry out the deed when considering that Caruana Galizia had not written about them.

Muscat was grilled about the sale of passports, a controversial scheme introduced by his government whereby individuals can pay for a property, reside in Malta for a year and pay a lump sum of €650,000 in exchange for a Maltese passport and Maltese citizenship. In view of Malta’s status as an EU member state this effectively buys a customer free movement across the 27 nation bloc.

In the interview, Muscat refuted the assertion that wealth and wealth alone can buy a person Maltese citizenship.

He was also grilled about his relationship with the Azeri ruling family, in view of allegations made by Caruana Galizia, that are still to be thrashed out in court, that Muscat’s wife is the UBO of a Panama company named Egrant. She also alleged that the Azeri dictator’s daughter, Leyla Aliyeva, had transferred €1 million to Egrant via a bank account Mrs Muscat held at Pilatus Bank, Ta’ Xbiex.

All involved have denied wrongdoing while a magisterial inquiry is under way.

In an interview with Sweeney Muscat said the assassination affected him “badly”.

He said that Caruana Galizia was one of his most “vociferous” critic, meaning that her brutal murder cast a dark shadow on the Muscat administration.

“This does not look good on me, I am very realistic about this”, he said.

He went on to say that besides her family, “if anybody has suffered from her death it’s us [the government]”.

Asked about what he was doing a week after the assassination, Sweeney reminded the Prime Minister that he was away “selling” passports.

Muscat took umbrage at this line of questioning, saying that “we do not sell. We, as other European countries, have a system which is transparent and open, allowing people to invest in our country and gain citizenship”.

Asked who is buying the passports, he said that wealthy people do but that it is not just about wealth. The presenter did not appear to be too convinced.

Sweeney also asked about the Muscat’s relationship with Azerbaijan’s ruling family, the Aliyevs.

Muscat claimed to have met Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev on a few occations in Baku and when attending EU Eastern partnership summits. He also said that “Mrs Aliyeva” came to Malta to meet Mrs Muscat once, “nothing more”.

“I do not think you can hide a million dollars, or a hundred dollars. Definitely not in a bank or anywhere else”.

Asked if Malta has a problem with money laundering, Muscat said he does not feel comfortable to say yes or no, but that the country has a problem with it in the same way that “Luxembourg, the city of London or the Netherlands”.

Muscat went on to say that he has been put in a very uncomfortable situation for needing to criticise someone who has been brutally murdered (Daphne Caruana Galizia).

“I hope we are not in a situation where we are in any democracy, situations are such where when somebody writes something on social media it’s taken as fact.”

Sweeney stressed that she had evidence to what she said, adding that Muscat may not agree with that evidence but it did exist. He was referring to accounts relayed to the slain journalist by a Russian whistle-blower who worked at Pilatus Bank but left over a dispute.

Muscat promptly disagreed, saying there is no “proof” or a shred of “truth” to the allegations.

“If there is a whiff of any evidence I would resign on the spot”.

Muscat said that he does not know if Caruana Galizia knew that the allegations were untrue, whether she was part of the creating the story or it was fed to her, and repeatedly said that there is no shred of truth to the claims.

Sweeney said that many people have described him as the “Artful dodger of Europe”, to which Muscat refuted. 

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