In comments made following the announcement of a US travel ban on disgraced former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi as well Keith Schembri, the chief of staff of former prime minister Joseph Muscat, a US embassy official said such action is intended to “promote accountability” and “deter future abuse”.
In response to questions sent, the embassy official confirmed that the US State Department “has credible information that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were involved in corrupt acts that included using their political influence and official power for personal benefit”.
On Wednesday, the US embassy announced the two have been barred entry to the US on orders of the Secretary of State based on information that “Mizzi and Schembri were involved in a corrupt scheme that entailed the award of a government contract for the construction of a power plant and related services in exchange for kickbacks and bribes”.
“Public designations under authorities such as this allow the United States to promote accountability and to disrupt and deter future abuse,” the statement reads.
Today, @StateDept publicly designated former Maltese public officials Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri ineligible for entry into the United States for corrupt actions that undermine the rule of law in Malta. The United States remains #UnitedAgainstCorruption with Malta.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) December 22, 2021
The embassy official clarified that Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Program Appropriations Act provides that officials of foreign governments about whom the Secretary of State has credible information of direct or indirect involvement in significant corruption are ineligible for entry into the United States.
The move “sends a strong signal that the United States stands with Malta in the fight against corruption,” the US embassy official added.
Asked where this leaves disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat after the disclosure of the US possessing “credible information” of wrongdoing by two of his closest aides, the embassy said:
“We take all allegations of corruption seriously and we continue to monitor investigations into corruption in Malta closely. When the US Department of State obtains credible information that a current or former foreign government official has been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, the Secretary begins the process of designating that official and his or her immediate family members under Section 7031(c). We will continue to use this authority and all available tools to combat corruption globally.”
The public inquiry board, which concluded that the State must shoulder responsibility for facilitating the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, had flagged the slain journalist’s work on the Electrogas deal as a crucial turning point in the plot to have her killed. The board argued that the journalist’s knowledge of the ownership of 17 Black, an offshore company which was set to award kickbacks to offshore companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri, would have put the future of the deal in doubt.
Featured photo credit: US embassy, Malta.