The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

Government, Opposition MPs declare intention to adopt report that found Muscat in breach of ethics

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 22 July 2020, 16:01 Last update: about 23 days ago

Both government and Opposition MPs have indicated their intention to adopt a report that found former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in breach of ethics over the Petrus wine gift, however debate within a Parliamentary Committee arose over particular legal points.

The Parliamentary Committee for Standards in Public Life was discussing a report in which Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was found to be prima facie in breach of the code of ethics when he received three bottles of expensive wine from Yorgen Fenech, the man who was later accused of complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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The report was compiled by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler on the request of independent candidate Arnold Cassola. Hyzler had been requested to investigate whether there had been a breach of ethics when it was reported that Muscat had received three bottles of Petrus - a premier Bordeaux red wine – costing about €5,800 in all.

Hyzler was brought before the committee to answer any questions they had about the report.

Hyzler said that in his report, he focused on the fact that Muscat invited someone who has dealings with the government in commerce to a private birthday party, saying that he did not need to look at the other issued this person is implicated in.

“All I am saying is how right is it that a PM invites to a private party, someone involved with government in commerce and accept gifts from that person.”


Read More: Petrus Wine: Joseph Muscat found in prima breach of code of ethics - Standards Commissioner


He said relations between government and businessmen must be kept at distance. “This was a small intimate party where few people were invited. When one invites a few people to a birthday party you are provoking getting a gift.  This gift had a significant value, € 5,000, especially when weighed against the wages of politicians, he said. He also said that the gift had a personal aspect to it, given the vintage of the wined, one dated to 1974 – Muscat’s year of birth – and the other two were dated to 2007 – the year of birth of his twin daughters.

As for the Security Services telling Muscat to act normally, and thus Muscat reportedly having his hands tied and having to invite Fenech, Hyzler noted that this shows that if the Security Services had not told him that, then Fenech would still have been invited.

Politicians should keep a social distance from bit business always, not only during a pandemic, he said.

He also highlighted the need for the country to aim for high standards and to strengthen the political class. Hyzler said that he will next week present a draft revised Code of Ethics, which will include as one of the appendix, guidelines on gifts, benefits and hospitality which will include the register of interests.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis indicated that Muscat is no longer a Prime Minister, and asked the Commissioner whether he believes the situation was solved by such outside circumstances.

The Commissioner said he agreed to a certain point, indicating that the legal clause relating to remedies does not only speak about financial ones, highlighting that apologies are another form of remedy.

“If you had to ask me what my recommendation is I don’t know. This is the committee’s responsibility.” He highlighted that the object themselves, the wine, remained with the State, and Muscat resigned as PM.

“But let me be clear. There were cases abroad where people resigned for less.

As an example, he mentioned past New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell, who resigned after not declaring a bottle of wine he received on his doorstep to which he had responded with a thankyou note, failing to declare it. “When he was accused of corruption, his party said it is not corruption, it is integrity and he resigned as he did not do the right thing.”

“We need the political class to redeem itself and I feel it is my duty for this to occur. If there is a decision to accept that what happened was incorrect, for my part I would be satisfied.”

While both sides were on the same page, that the opinion should be adopted, the debate came down to a legal point as to whether, as PN MP Karol Aquilina suggested, that the report be adopted and then Muscat be brought in to give his views before decisions be taken on remedies, or the government MPs position, to adopt the report and leave it at that, with them arguing that choosing to bring Muscat in would mean that the PN does not want to adopt the report as it wants to further the investigations in the committee – due to text in another clause.

The discussion will continue at a later date.

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