The Malta Independent 3 August 2020, Monday

Muscat’s visit to Dubai not in breach of ethics, €21,000 flights paid for by ‘third party'

Friday, 17 July 2020, 17:42 Last update: about 17 days ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s trip to Dubai in December 2019 has been deemed by the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler as not being in breach of the Code of Ethics for Ministers.

The Standards Commissioner said that he came to this conclusion after considering complaints from PD leader Timothy Alden and PN leader Adrian Delia. The complaints concerned the cost of the visit and whether this was met by Muscat himself or by a third party, Hyzler’s office said in a statement.

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It was established that the costs of the visit were not paid for by Muscat but by a third party. The flights cost approximately €21,000, and the identity of the third party who made the payment – which was marked as being done in cash – was not mentioned in Hyzler’s report, although Muscat seems to have told Hyzler of the third party’s identity.

In the course of his investigations, Hyzler summoned the country manager for the Emirates airline in Malta, who testified that the first-class tickets in question had been bought through a travel agent called Travel Masters in Amman, Jordan.

The cost of each ticket amounted to JOD4,152.60, then equivalent to €5,259, or over €21,000 for the four tickets, Hyzler found.

“The tickets were recorded as having been paid for in “cash”. This could have meant actual cash, a bank transfer, or a cheque, but excluded payment by credit card or on invoice. No information was available on who paid for the tickets”, Hyzler said.

Hyzler then summoned Muscat for a meeting with regards to the trip and the complaints presented.

He said that Muscat gave him a detailed explanation about the purpose of the visit and who paid for the trip. The Commissioner said that he found no evidence to contradict the explanation given.

Hyzler’s office said that Muscat requested the Commissioner not to put the details disclosed to him in the public domain.

“Since it appeared that the visit was private in nature, not related to official government business, and did not involve a breach of ethics, the Commissioner accepted Dr Muscat’s request to withhold publication of the details of the visit.”

“Dr Muscat stated that the trip was not paid for by public funds and neither was it funded by Dr Muscat’s private funds”, Hyzler wrote in his report.

A picture of one of Muscat’s daughters with footballer Joao Felix, Hyzler said, was taken in the first-class lounge of the Dubai International Airport, after his daughter spotted the footballer by chance prior to their departure to Malta.

Hyzler said that since he has no evidence to contradict the detailed statement of events given to him by Muscat, it appears that the trip was not paid through public funds, was of a private nature, and was not “paid for by any person or entity that has, or has had, or was expected to have an interest in legislation in Malta or any other commercial or political interest in Malta.”

“The Commissioner concluded that the host of the visit could not have intended to influence Dr Muscat’s decisions as Prime Minister, since he had already announced his resignation and he had only two weeks remaining in this role”, the statement continues.

Hence no breach of the Code of Ethics for Ministers occurred, Hyzler’s office said.

“In addition, the host of the visit had no interest in legislation before Parliament or any commercial interest in Malta, so the visit did not represent a breach of the Code of Ethics for MPs”, the statement adds.

In his report, Hyzler notes that one may ask whether Muscat’s paid trip to the United Arab Emirates might have influenced past decisions taken in his capacity as Prime Minister – meaning that it represented a reward for a service rendered.

“However, this would imply that the visit was the continuation of an already established relationship between Dr. Muscat and the sponsor of the visit.  I have found no evidence that suggests that such a prior relationship existed”, Hyzler concluded.

“I am therefore closing this report on this basis”, he ends.

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