The Malta Independent 28 May 2018, Monday

PM reiterates support for Jason Micallef, refuses to comment directly on 17 Black

Julian Bonnici Tuesday, 24 April 2018, 17:22 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reiterated his support for embattled V18 Chairman Jason Micallef in light of the damning criticism and calls for resignations from global and local organisations, but insisted that it was important to moderate the tone of public discourse, when facing questions from The Malta Independent. 

With regards to 17 Black, he refused to comment directly, saying he did not want to prejudice the magisterial inquiries taking place.

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The newsroom had initially asked the PM for his reaction on the call from local artists, 72 MEPs, and PEN international writers for Jason Micallef’s resignation over the irreparable damage he has caused to the reputation, programme and leadership of Valletta 2018, with Ulrich Fuchs, the Chairman of the committee that monitored  Valletta as European Capital for Culture in 2018, saying that he would not attend any V18 event “as long as people representing the project destroy European values.”

Muscat disagreed, saying that this was an issue of freedom of expression and would not specifically condemn the remarks and ask for his resignation.

“I have enormous faith in the leadership of V18, I believe the tone should be moderated, and this applies to everyone. We should listen to everyone, the freedom of expression applies to all, and there should be respect for each other. I noted what PEN said, as that what interests me the most, I don’t agree with their conclusions, and we are drafting a reply at the moment,” he said.

He was also asked whether he felt Micallef’s consistent public attacks and ridicule of artists or persons who criticised and satirise those in power, was acceptable for an individual who was a public official of both the country and the European Union. It should also be noted that Micallef is meant to be heading a unifying a-political cultural project.

“I believe we are speaking about freedom of expression, it cannot be a one-way street,” he said.

Reminded once again that Micallef is a public official,  Muscat said “we have a set of standards for one group, and a set of standards for another, I believe everyone has to moderate their language.”

The PM also faced a number of questions concerning 17 Black, which was listed as the ‘main client’ and ‘possible Payer/Sender’ of Tillgate and Hearnville, the offshore Panamian companies owned by OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, in emails published by German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Times of Malta as part of the Daphne Project.

Following the revelations, Schembri stated that they (17 Black) was included in draft business plans for his business group as potential clients, while Mizzi insisted that there is no connection, direct or otherwise.

Muscat would not disclose whether he had discussed the revelations with Schembri and Mizzi, stressing that he would not discuss the issue while a magisterial inquiry was open, and constantly referring to the Egrant allegations describing them  as “heinous lies”.

When told that he continuously diverted the questions to his own affairs, Muscat said that country was in turmoil a year ago, and that he called on journalists to provide hard evidence on the allegations.

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