The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Parliament debates 17 Black: Delia asks why a PM who takes decisions can’t remove Mizzi, Schembri

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 12 November 2018, 19:12 Last update: about 26 days ago

A heated Parliamentary debate yesterday saw Opposition MPs call for action against Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri over the 17 Black revelations.

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia filed a motion for the latest revelations to be urgently debated in Parliament, given that they are of national importance to the public. 

Delia said that the Prime Minister had confirmed there was no inquiry into 17 Black, and added that certain people including Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri are objecting to there being an investigation into the Panama Papers through actions in court.

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Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said that when there are major allegations made against MPs, that it is Parliament's duty to discuss them. He asked for the scope of Delia's motion to be widened, to include all major allegations including those made against Delia himself, and the more recent allegations against PN MEP David Casa. Delia indicated that Standing Orders to not allow for such a wide scope, to which Fearne said that the Opposition Leader did not want to discuss allegations about himself.

The Speaker of the House accepted the Opposition's request, saying there was agreement from both sides of the house. What followed was a heated session with the PN hitting hard on the Panama Papers revelations, with some MPs also criticizing government MPs for not taking action while at the same time not denying the revelations.

The government MPs, on their part, criticized Delia on allegations which were made against him, and also argued that the authorities and institutions should be allowed to conduct their investigations.

Konrad Mizzi did not speak during the debate, nor did Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

The 17 Black revelations found that local investigators were given an intelligence report naming Electrogas director and CEO of the Tumas Group Yorgen Fenech as the owner of 17 Black. Tumas Group is one of the partners in the Electrogas power station. The power station had been pushed by Konrad Mizzi back when he was Energy Minister. 17 Black was listed as the 'Main Client' and 'Possible Payer/Sender' of Tillgate and Hearnville, the offshore Panamanian companies owned by OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, leaked emails obtained by German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and published by the Daphne Project previously revealed. Keith Schembri, in reaction to the news story, said that 17 Black never became clients of his business group, The Times of Malta reported.

In his speech, Delia questioned why a Prime Minister who prides himself in taking decisions, and has removed people from their posts in the past, cannot remove his chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi from their positions, after the constant revelations on the two.

Delia said that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi should have been removed purely on the fact that they had acquired companies in the secretive jurisdiction of Panama.

He said that when Muscat said Egrant wasn't his, and that he would resign if it was, the Prime Minister had condemned the owners of the other two companies, by indirectly saying that should have resigned.

He said that the companies were set up in a secretive jurisdiction, where companies are created by service providers who provide for money laundering.

Delia said that declarations were made in terms of what funds would be sent to the Hearneville and Tillgate companies - the two companies belonging to Mizzi and Schembri - by 17 Black. He said that money was to pass from 17 Black into their companies, and that this was enough for political responsibility to be carried.

Delia accused the Prime Minister, and others of holding back inquiries on the issue from occurring.

He said that those who are taking decisions for the country are working for their own personal interest, and not in the interest of the country. He said that structures were set up to receive funds from those who took the power station contract.

Delia questioned what inquiry the Maltese people would need to realize that this situation was not right.

He said that until the inquiries conclude, political responsibility must be carried by the PM.

Today, he said, an important decision lay before Parliament, "We need to decide why government persists to, instead of defending Malta's reputation, remain hard-headed and not remove these two people."

He said that the rule of law means that it applies to everyone, and whoever breaks the law or ethics must pay the consequences.

He said that there is no longer any other road, and such responsibility must be carried. If Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri do not resign, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat must carry responsibility himself.

Deputy Prime Minister Chris fearne said that he has a copy of an email the PN sent just prior to the Parliamentary debate, calling for a press call at 7pm today, calling is a mise-en-scene.

"We heard about the allegations against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, but Delia forgot to mention the allegations against him."

He said that Delia should resign himself by his own yardstick. He said that Delia himself said the allegations are allegations and that there are judicial process ongoing.

Malta is an EU country, which believes in the rule of law, he said. Lets wait for the outcome of the judicial process, he said, saying "who would we be to decide to forget that process, where would the rule of law be?"

Fearne brought up the allegations against MEP David Casa, that Casa uses cocaine and trafficked it during parties, and that he was defrauding the EU Commission. Fearne said that the day this article was published, he went on Television and said that Malta is a country with rule of law with strong courts and institutions. "Let's let the institutions do their job."

"I did not play the judge as the Opposition wants. Is that the rule of law, you wouldn't let the judicial process move forward."

He said that "the only person who has allegations with no judicial processes against him is Adrian Delia, since he stopped them."

"I invite him, or his friend Simon Busuttil, to go and open a case. Why are you afraid of opening a court case?"

Once the decisions are made by the authorities, then "we will act" Fearne said.

He said that the recent 17 Black revelations quote an FIAU report, and as such the investigation from the FIAU is ongoing. "They are confirming that the Maltese institutions are doing their job well, and so your arguments about the authorities have fallen. Let us let our institutions do their job and when they conclude, if needed, we will hold another debate."

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that when there are allegations, the adequate forum to uncover the truth are the courts.

He also said that Delia's speech was a rehash of Simon Busuttil's old speeches on the issue.

Bonnici said that it is easy to comment on the rule of law, but it is harder to act on it. He said that this government, whenever there is an accusation, it is investigated through the judicial system, saying government has trust in all members of the judiciary, and does not stay questioning their past or circumstances.

He said that he is pleased with Malta's legal system, and does not go abroad negatively commenting on it, instead praising the system abroad. "If you truly like and believe in the rule of law, you should allow the system to work, the authorities to work."

PN MP and former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil said that thus far the two ministers who had spoken until then did not answer anything on what was revealed last Friday. "What worried them most was that the PN issue the press call, yet they said nothing on the substance of the situation."

"We have the biggest case of corruption in Malta's history, as it involves the highest officials in government. The question is whether our institutions are able to take action in order for our laws to be equal for everyone. That is the test."

"Two and a half years ago, Daphne Caruana Galizia said that Brian Tonna acquired three companies, two of which were for Schembri and Mizzi. We later found out why they were set up, to receive €150,000 a month. The third fact, is where the funds are coming from, and that is where the circle was closed last week, coming from a man who is an owner of the gas power station. These are three facts which nobody can argue against." He called this corruption. He said 17 Black was mentioned by both the companies of Mizzi and Schembri, adding that they still need to know who the other company Macbridge, belonged to.

An attempted criminal act is still a criminal act, even if no funds were passed through, he said.

Busuttil highlighted that this is the political arena, and said that he has a right to demand political responsibility, adding that there is a difference between this and criminal responsibility. One could uphold political responsibility even if there was no criminal responsibility if something wrong was done, he said. "We are asking for political responsibility, legal responsibility remains in the court's hands.

Busuttil said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat knew, or should have known about what was going on, as all he had to do was ask Keith Schembri. As such, by keeping Schembri and Mizzi there, Muscat is political responsible if not accomplice.

"The people are not stupid, and they know that, what is happening before them, stinks." He questioned how the Prime Minister "will not take action before the courts decide if he himself is objecting for an inquiry I am asking for, for this to be investigated. The truth is that the Prime Minister does not want to take action"

Economy Minister Chris Cardona said that Simon Busuttil lost his credibility with the people and with the Opposition Leader after pushing the Egrant allegations, where an inquiry did not find evidence that the Prime Minister or his wife owned Egrant (the third Panama company).

Cardona said that an election was called over Egrant, and now Busuttil does not even mention it once. "How could you not mention it when you took people to the streets, when you did all that over something you knew did not exist."

"This is why we have an obligation not to only speak about 17 Black, but even about what happened regarding Egrant. 100 suspicions do not make one piece of evidence. I am quoting Aaron Bugeja in the Egrant inquiry conclusions".

Allegations are suppositions that something could have happened, or that someone could have done that. "But if there is no evidence confirming this, don't allegations remain allegations?  Over the past years, it seems the word allegations took on a new definition," he said.

The Minister said that the Opposition has no remorse over what they had done, adding that over Egrant, true justice for the Prime Minister and his family can never be done. That situation exposed how there are people ready to do anything for power. "The PN didn't change," he said. He insinuated that the Opposition is trying to score political points.

PL MP Rosianne Cutajar said that the Opposition is worried about Malta's reputation, yet the only issue is that nobody believes the Opposition, highlighting that EU statistics show that Maltese wages are growing more than other EU countries, and that Malta is living a success.

PN MP David Stellini questioned the example Parliament is giving young people. Is this the country where we want our children to grow up, he asked. "I wish we had a more accountable government, but we don't."

PL MP Alex Muscat spoke of government’s investment, and said that a PN government would have raised the energy bills. He said that the gas energy project resulted in cleaner air, while the PN wanted to use Heavy Fuel Oil. He said that the PN had called the project an Alice in Wonderland, and that the PN even tried to create obstacles in the EU. "They didn't manage, as the energy project is even approved by the European Commission. The only red lights we have are in the PN." He said that the PN tried to scare the people with the LNG tanker as well. 

PL MP Glenn Bedingfield said that the Prime Minister is her to stay as long as he wants, and not until the Opposition decides. Bedingfield quoted Daphne Caruana Galizia, and her allegations against Delia, that Delia used to use a bank account in Jersey to receive funds from the UK property in Soho. He said that nobody from the PL side of the House is afraid of investigation.

PD MP Marlene Farrugia said that government does not want a serious investigation into the Panama Papers, and its subsequent revelations. "FIAU reports remain just that, and the police do not investigate. When an MP calls for an investigation, Muscat's government does all they can to create obstacles. Whoever does not want a serious investigation is an accomplice."

PL MP Edward Zammit Lewis highlighted that for the PN only their own people are right. He questioned who carried responsibility for the oil scandal, adding that the PN had created obstacles. Zammit Lewis said that the Prime Minister will, where needed, take decisions.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi said that Cardona, Fearne, Cutajar, Bonnici, Bedingfield and Zammit Lewis not mention the word 17 Black. "What is worrying you so much, that you cannot mention it."

He questioned whether anyone who spoke not believe that Mizzi or Schembri acquired a company, or that they were not planning to take in €5,000 a day. "They made a plan to, each day, take in €5,000 through corruption. Did you hear anyone say this was not true. No."

He reminded Parliament how the Prime Minister had gone to Azerbaijan without any media or civil servants, adding that FIAU reports show that Mizzi had made a number of visits there.

 

 

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