The third meeting of the parliamentary committee on Standards in Public Life discussing Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar’s involvement in a property deal involving Yorgen Fenech ended with Speaker Anglu Farrugia refusing to adopt the Standards Commissioner’s report and agreeing with Labour MPs on further investigation on taxes.
The Speaker suspended the session while opposition MPs were asking for a formal vote for the Hyzler report to be adopted and for Cutajar to face sanctions, to which government MPs Glenn Bedingfield and Edward Zammit Lewis objected.
When discussing whether to adopt the report, the Speaker’s casting vote called for further investigation for the decision to be taken “comfortably” and not solely on the basis of the prima facia evidence compiled by George Hyzler in his report.
Government MPs, as well as the Speaker himself, insisted on diverting the investigation towards the office of the tax commissioner – a move that pins the controversy as a tax issue that ignores the wider implications of the Labour MP’s involvement in a deal with the man accused of being complicit in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
After another sitting earlier in the morning was suspended, the Speaker began by referring to “sensitive documentation” that he said he’d received at around 3pm. The information was provided by the intermediary in the deal, Charles ‘it-Tikka’ Farrugia, a close collaborator of Rosianne Cutajar who she also appointed to various government roles.
Farrugia presented amended income tax returns, including a declaration of the brokerage fees he claims to have received. Opposition MPs Karol Aquilina and Therese Comodini Cachia immediately alleged that the tax returns and the sudden turnaround of about €40,000 filed in Farrugia’s amended returns “were proof that Rosianne Cutajar and the Labour Party” put Farrugia up to it.
MP and Labour Party Whip Glenn Bedingfield and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis repeatedly accused opposition MPs of wanting to dictate the process, but would not commit to hearing other witnesses besides Tax Commissioner Marvin Gaerty.
The formal vote on other witnesses was not taken as the Speaker insisted that the committee’s members “must sort it out between them”.
After repeated calls for order and for some respect for the Clerk of the House attempting to document four MPs yelling at each other, the Speaker said “the committee is sending a very bad message with all the cross-debating” and that the yelling “was not on”.
Despite this, the Speaker walked off as opposition MP Karol Aquilina was saying the committee must decide on hearing both Gaerty and Cutajar’s associate at the next sitting on Monday.
The tax commissioner will be the first witness to be heard by the committee. There was a lack of agreement on whether Cutajar and her associate Charles ‘it-Tikka’ Farrugia will be seen as subsequent witnesses.