The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Updated (2): Muscat confirms he stayed at Tumas Group's France Hilton, says trip was in 2014

Thursday, 26 November 2020, 10:01 Last update: about 9 months ago

Despite their statements, neither Muscat nor Zammit Lewis have explicitly stated that they paid for the accommodation

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed that he had holidayed at a Hilton hotel in France, owned by the Tumas Group.

According to reports, the trip took place in Easter 2017, but Muscat has said it actually took place in 2014.

Muscat told Times of Malta that he stayed with his family and that of Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis at the Évian-Les-Bains Hilton in northern France.

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The hotel is owned by the Tumas Group, of which Yorgen Fenech was a director before his resignation last year. 

Muscat told Times of Malta that, “The stay in France some years back was part of a family holiday, and no local taxpayer or EU funds were used.  We travelled from and back to Malta on commercial flights and paid accordingly.”

When pressed to clarify whether he had paid for the accommodation or just the flights, Muscat said, “I replied quite clearly”, and referred the newspaper back to its original source.

Lovin Malta also reported today that Muscat travelled from the resort to an urgent EU summit by private jet. Muscat confirmed that he had used a jet, saying that the costs were borne by the EU. “The same would have happened had I been in Malta,” he added.  

He said he had asked Zammit Lewis to join him at the EU meeting because he was a Cabinet colleague, adding that the sources were trying to “mislead” the press.

Zammit Lewis told Lovin Malta: “Unlike others, whose cases have been revealed in the past days, I did not phone anyone from the Fenech family to ask for any favours nor did I ask for suggestions about which hotel to stay in and never gave any gifts to the Fenech family in compensation for any freebies.”

He was referring to the recent revelation that PN MP Jason Azzopardi had had his Hilton hotel stay in 2018 paid for by the Tumas Group.

Earlier this year, France’s National Financial Prosecutor, the PNF, launched an investigation – at the request of the Caruana Galizia family - into whether Yorgen Fenech used his French-based assets to bribe Maltese public officials. It is understood that these assets include the Hilton Hotel at Evian-Les-Bains.

The Malta Independent contacted the PNF earlier this month and asked whether the Easter trip was being investigated. A spokesperson confirmed that the PNF has has opened an investigation which is still ongoing, but said no information can be provided at this stage.

 

Muscat reaction

In a Facebook post, Muscat said he had received questions after “well-known” person started whispering rumours to the media, perhaps in an attempt to draw attention away from him.

The former PM said he had provided all replies and the story stopped there, but he received similar questions from another newsroom this week after the source’s first attempt to push the story failed.

Ġimgħatejn ilu irċevejt mistoqsijiet mingħand mezz tax-xandir wara li persuna magħrufa sew bdiet iddur xi media tfesfes,...

Posted by Joseph Muscat on Thursday, November 26, 2020

Muscat said Lovin Malta’s headline was “deceitful” because the newsroom claimed it was a “free” stay.

He also said that Zammit Lewis had told journalists that the trip took place in 2014, but the media house reported that it took place in 2017, in an attempt to link it to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

As for the use of a private jet, Muscat said the plane used was the same one used previously by Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi and was leased from the Tumas Group.

Muscat said he had also denied reports about “photos of women” sent in the Whatsapp chat, saying he had never been shown such photos by the police and that he had certainly not sent them.

He also published the reply he gave to journalists in full:

I believe whoever gave you this information has misled you. The stay in France some years back was part of a family holiday, and no local taxpayer or EU funds were used. We travelled from and back to Malta on commercial flights and paid accordingly.

A European summit was called at short notice after the holiday was scheduled and I flew via private flight to the meetings. The said cost is borne by the European Union, irrespective of the place of departure. The same would have happened had I been in Malta.

Minister Zammit Lewis and his family were with us and I asked him to join me for the meetings, given he was a cabinet colleague."

 

We paid for the flights - Zammit Lewis

In a statement on Facebook, Zammit Lewis also too aim at Lovin Malta’s reporting, saying the news article was aimed at damaging his political character and the work he has done in favour of the rule of law and good governance.

Nirreferi għall-istorja ppublikata minn Lovin Malta elektronikament li hija storja qarrieqa u intiża sabiex tkisser...

Posted by Edward Zammit Lewis on Thursday, November 26, 2020

There was no 2017 trip, he said. “We travelled to France with our respective families in 2014. In Easter of 2017, I was abroad with my family in Sicily.”

He said that, in 2014, the two families paid for their scheduled commercial flights. “I have never asked for favours, freebies or free accommodation.”

Zammit Lewis said Joseph Muscat had to attend an urgent EU Summit and had taken him along. Lovin Malta’s story, he said, was “deceitful.”

Despite their statements, neither Muscat nor Zammit Lewis have explicitly stated that they paid for the accommodation

 

A cosy relationship

The relationship between Yorgen Fenech and Joseph Muscat has often been under the spotlight. Last year it was revealed that Fenech had gifted Muscat two expensive bottles of Petrus wine at the PM’s birthday party, held at Girgenti Palace.

The wine was worth some €6,000. Fenech had also gifted him with an expensive Bvlgari handwatch.

Muscat had insisted that the gifts went to the state.

It was recently revealed that Muscat was in a Whatsapp chat with Fenech and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Muscat had told The Malta Independent that he had been advised by the Malta Security Service to keep in contact with Fenech after he became a person of interest in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, so as not to alert the businessman to the investigation.

 

 

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