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Muscat protected his friends, not the national interest

Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Image: Daphne Caruana Galizia / Running Commentary.

While the Maltese government kept insisting that the Council of Europe report was “riddled with inaccurate and gratuitous statements” it accepted the bulk of the report dealing with a string of scandals involving top government officials, Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt pointed out on social media.

Omtzigt said in a tweet that not a single one of the amendments proposed by the government dealt with any of the descriptions about the major scandals listed in the report: The Panama Papers, the Electrogas Affair, the Hillman Affair, Golden Passports, Egrant, Vitals Global Health Care, or Nexia BT and Brian Tonna’s involvement.

Instead, the government focused on removing references to those in its midst, like a reference to how the police failed to question Economy Minister Chris Cardona “despite claims he had contact with the suspects”.

The amendments tabled by the government, supported by Azerbaijan, San Marino and Hungary, were largely refused by “an overwhelming majority” (they even tried to contest the term, which defines a two-thirds majority that is undeniable according to the votes registered). 

The report was adopted with an overwhelming majority of 72 to 18, with three abstentions last week.

The government’s failure to file amendments on other issues listed in the report meant that it accepted the text relating to these scandals. “They did not challenge the facts at all. Thus, they accepted them. On all the scandals, on all the constitutional problems and on the need to make the Egrant inquiry public immediately,” Omtzigt said.

In an interview with The Shift News, Omtzigt had said that the government’s statement on inaccuracies contained in the report should be substantiated. To this day, that has not been done.  

“I challenged the Maltese government and the Maltese MPs: give me a list of mistakes and inaccuracies. And I asked them for the road map for reform. The answer was the same as when I asked for a meeting with Minister Mizzi: a great silence,” Omtzigt said on Sunday.

The report describes the Electrogas Affair as “highly irregular” and carefully details how Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were due to receive large sums of money from a member of the Electrogas consortium, Yorgen Fenech – reported as the owner of Dubai company 17 Black. The owner of the other company implicated in the scandal, MacBridge Ltd, is yet to be identified.

In terms of the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) affair, it noted how the contract was awarded to a company before the bidding began, despite its lack of experience in running hospitals. It also detailed how VGH had received as much as €150 million from the government, yet had made “negligible progress with promised investments”.

The Hillman affair detailed how Schembri was “allegedly involved in money laundering with Adrian Hillman” (the former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers) and stated that the “police had failed to act” despite the existence of a report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

It described how Tonna and Nexia BT played “key roles” in a number of the scandals mentioned and how the company continued to receive “numerous lucrative government contracts” revealed by The Shift News. It also observed that the Accountancy Board refused to take any disciplinary action against him.

Read: Probe reveals over €2 million in direct orders to Panama Papers’ firm in Malta

Tonna’s name also came up in relation to Malta’s scheme peddling European passports, where the report explained how Schembri had received kickbacks. The report repeats the line that the police had failed to investigate all of these scandals and that magisterial inquiries were still ongoing two years after they were launched with no indication of results.

The government focused instead on removing another particular paragraph, which referred to the “false claims” on the progress of the investigation made by the Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia who “appeared to confirm” reports that the police had identified two suspected masterminds behind the murder, adding he hoped they would soon be arrested. 

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar sprung to his defence: “This is what happened. He was misreported”. But other members of the Council did not agree and voted to retain the text.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi, who was attacked by the Labour Party in the Labour Party’s news portal One news for “working against Malta” shortly after the vote on the report was passed, said: “These factual tweets by Pieter Omtzigt are a bill of indictment of the hypocritical arguments by those who have tried to lynch me on social media, together with the government”.

Azzopardi made a heartfelt appeal before the vote for members to support Omtzigt’s resolution, saying: “It is in your interest to support this resolution”. He spoke of the need to uphold the rule of law and drew attention to the fact that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination was a well planned and premeditated attack by people with “access to the highest corridors of power”.

He spoke of the “disgust” felt by European Socialists for the smear campaign and personal attacks levied against Omtzigt, as well as the less than enthusiastic response to the “mental gymnastics” performed by the Maltese government in trying to drum up support for their proposed amendments. 

British Socialist MP Lord George Foulkes said the government’s behaviour in attacking a member of the Council of Europe for his meticulous report was “doubly disgraceful“.

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