The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Egrant inquiry: Bonnici insists it is ‘duty to assist PM on issues of national importance'

Rachel Attard Monday, 1 October 2018, 08:28 Last update: about 2 months ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has defended the fact that he has been given access to and has been assisting the Prime Minister with the handling of the Egrant inquiry, after it was revealed in court earlier this week that the Attorney General had given a copy of the under-wraps report to him.

In a short statement to this newspaper, Bonnici said, “As Justice Minister I have a duty to assist the Prime Minister on questions of national importance, as this inquiry was.”

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He however avoided number of other related issues he was questioned about, saying, “Since there are pending procedures in court, I cannot express myself on the issue more than that.”

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia, who has started court proceedings so that he too would be granted access to the report – claiming democratic imbalance and a suppression of his right to freedom of expression – yesterday charged that Bonnici’s access to the report not only constituted a breach of the ministerial code of ethics, since minister cannot continue with their private work once appointed to Cabinet, but it also put to question the very basic rules of democracy.

Delia said yesterday in a radio telephone interview, “Joseph Muscat has private lawyers, the Attorney General and now we are to believe that the Justice Minister is also giving him legal advice. Why does he need so many lawyers?

“The revelation embodies everything that goes against the rule of law, breach of ethics and good governance and yet the AG mentions such matters as though they are frivolous.”

In his replies to this newsroom’s questions, Bonnici did not answer as to whether he had forwarded copies of the inquiry to Panama papers-linked Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Office of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. The inquiry reportedly includes information on both of them.

Nor did he answer as to whether any other person had been given a copy of the 1,500-page report, which, according to the conclusions that were published, exonerated the Prime Minister and his wife from any involvement in the Panamanian company Egrant, which had been set up in tandem with the Panamanian companies of Mizzi and Schembri.

Bonnici also did not answer as to whether the report had been discussed at Cabinet level, or whether he agreed with the Prime Minister’s contention that he had no problem with publishing the report in its entirety.

On Tuesday the Attorney General told a court that he had emailed a copy of the full Egrant inquiry to Bonnici as an attachment to a blank email.

He testified in court that, “I had received a letter from Dr [Pawlu] Lia on behalf of the Prime Minister and his wife saying that the inquiry should be published…I didn’t feel it was right to just up and publish the inquiry as it was voluminous and needed to be read through.”

Doing so would reveal methods and banking information related to third parties who were not in the public sphere, he said.

“I felt the PM’s argument was valid as he needed the full evidential basis of the inquiry. In my opinion…to be released to the PM, I felt this should be upheld. Subsequently the PM was taking advice to see whether or not to publish the inquiry. The Minister for Justice asked if I had an electronic copy and I passed it on to him as he is a lawyer who was assisting the PM in the analysis of the inquiry.”

Quizzed about the correctness of that, Grech said, “I know he [Bonnici] was assisting him on the topic of the inquiry and therefore I passed on a copy to him. I understand that the Prime Minister isn’t going to be looking at it alone, he has people assisting him in studying it.”

The Attorney General did not reply to questions sent by The Malta Independent.
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