The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

PM denies knowledge of Macbridge ownership; 'Cabinet did not discuss Montenegro deal last November'

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 28 June 2020, 12:51 Last update: about 5 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela has denied that he has any knowledge of who the owner of the company Macbridge is, while also denying that a Cabinet meeting back in 2019 had discussed the Montenegro wind-farm situation.

17 Black, a company owned by Yorgen Fenech, and Macbridge - whose ownership remains unknown - were listed as the target clients of Tillgate and Hearnville, the offshore Panamanian companies owned by former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and MP Konrad Mizzi in leaked emails. Schembri had said that neither 17 Black nor MacBridge ever became clients of his business group. Mizzi had previously said that he has no association with either of the two companies.


Abela was being interviewed by journalists from 3 newsrooms on Sunday on ONE TV. He was asked to explain why the decisions to remove the former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, MP Konrad Mizzi and the resignation of Chris Cardona were needed to the ONE TV viewers. He was asked about the possible inevitable kicking out of Joseph Muscat as the person politically responsible for scandals that occurred while he was Prime Minister, including that of Montenegro, and to state who the owner of Macbridge is.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi had previously on social media said that Cabinet and Robert Abela got to know who owned Macbridge during a meeting on 28 November 2019. Abela, asked on Sunday, denied any knowledge of who owned the company.

During his answer, the Prime Minister also referred to the Montenegro scandal.

It was previously reported that 17 Black - the Dubai company belonging to Yorgen Fenech - made a profit of €4.6 million from Enemalta's purchase of the windfarm project. The project was reportedly first acquired, for €2.9 million, by Seychelles-based company Cifidex, which sold it to Enemalta for €10.3 million a few weeks later. Enemalta had, on Sunday, said that it had only paid €3 million for its shareholding in the project, and not €10.3 million, and refuted knowledge of 17 Black’s involvement in the deal.  It has also recently been reported that the police had allegedly told Cabinet in November 2019 that Fenech had evidence on the Montenegro deal when Cabinet was discussing his pardon request.

Abela yesterday said that it was not true that the Montenegro situation had been brought up in Cabinet last November.

Abela said he became Prime Minister on 13 January with one clear aim, that the country be led with the highest levels of good governance while keeping the economy going strong. "I believe good governance and the economy complement each other," he said. "Having a country with a strong basis of good governance does not exclude having an economy move forward, and over the past five months we have seen this." He said that despite 3 months of difficulties, where economies around the world were collapsing it was not the case in Malta.

Regarding the decisions that he has taken in his time as Prime Minister he said that he is committed to taking the necessary decisions to continue strengthening the reputation of the PL, government and the country.

He said that while Malta was, in the recent past, being reported on in a negative tone abroad, now Malta is being spoken of differently.

He said that at first everyone was negative that Malta will not be able to conform with the Venice Commission report, but now "not only did the government conform, but entered into a dialogue with the Commission and came out with a result which everyone agreed on."

Turning to Moneyval, and the threat of Malta being grey-listed, he said that the situation is challenging, "But we will meet the challenge and beat it."

Speaking about the removals from the party, he said that the message is clear, that all decisions taken were necessary and the fruits of this will be seen later on.

On Joseph Muscat, he made a clear distinction between his situation and that of Konrad Mizzi. He said that while Mizzi had connections with Panama Papers and allegations on Montenegro, the situation is not the same with Joseph Muscat.

He was asked whether this means he is categorically excluding that Muscat will be removed before the end of the legislature unless he leaves on his own. "Are you treating him differently due to possible political backlash given he won elections by such large margins?"  Abela was also asked whether his is excluding the possibility of an early election so that he could start a new page and for the country to close the last chapter.

Regarding Joseph Muscat, Abela said that it is not a question of fear, but of the way he sees things today. He said that he is not seeing any incompatibility with Muscat keeping on representing the PL.

As for an early election, "I don't see the need for an early election to start new page. I started it already by taking all the necessary decisions from the first day."

He said that an early election would be the easy solution but is not best decision for the country. Right now the country needs stability, he said, highlighting that the current period is not an easy one for the world given the Covid-19 pandemic. "We need to focus on the economy, let business work tranquilly."

He said the government cannot announce a €900 million recovery package then at the same time call an election, as while saying that the government is putting trust in business that would at the same time pull the carpet out from under the feet of business and move into a time of uncertainty that an election brings. He said that government went with the decision that makes sense, and is taking the decisions that need to be taken.

On tourism, he spoke about the sector's importance on the country, saying that a third of the economy is based on it.

He said that 24 destinations will open on 1 July, and on 15 July more will open. He said that tourism in Malta is needed, and also spoke of protecting peoples' health.

He was asked about ministers using funds to promote their personal social media pages and the magisterial inquiry looking into whether members of Cabinet broke financial laws by doing so. "You were Cabinet's lawyer when Joseph Muscat pledged code of ethics on this subject, which hasn't been seen yet. At that time did any PL Ministers or MPs ask if what they were doing was acceptable?"

Abela responded by saying that he was never asked to give any advice on the matter.

He highlighted that it was a Labour government that established the office of the Standards Commissioner. He gave a timeline of events on this issue, and said that a complaint had been filed with the Commissioner. "This was a new subject for everyone. The investigation led to a report. While the investigation was being conducted, we as government did not wait for the report to be published, and did what was needed to align our systems to conform with what the Commissioner suggested should happen in discussions with him, So much so that in the final report, it reads that the steps taken were satisfactory."

He highlighted that a request for a magisterial inquiry was then filed and that the whole Cabinet is being investigated on this point from a criminal aspect.

"My position will be to defend my and my friends position."

He said that if there are areas needed to improve then they will improve, but said that he had his reservations on the genuinity of requiring the call of a magisterial inquiry. He criticised the practice of throwing Cabinet into magisterial inquiries time and time again, highlighting that this is his second since taking office, with the first relating to migration.

On Air Malta and the pilots' union ALPA, he said that he has directly been involved in discussions on this issue, as well as Covid-19 and other important issues such as Moneyval.

"There is a court decision that is clear on the redundancies, and the company is not thinking of ignoring it," he said, while saying that the future of the pilots is in their own hands. He said that the company's position is clear and there will not be any backtracking. 

A court of law recently turned down a request by the Airline Pilots Association to stop Air Malta from dismissing 69 pilots.

On tourism in general, Abela said that the authorities were working to ensure that tourist arrivals pick up while public health is protected.




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