Former prime minister Joseph Muscat was in full defence mode at his second hearing before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating the corruption-riddled ElectroGas power station contract.
With a menacing scowl, Muscat told PAC chair, Opposition MP Darren Carabott, “I could take you anytime, anywhere.”
Muscat accused Carabott of excessive partisanship, overstepping his remit and mistreating a witness before the PAC, saying, “You should consult the standing orders on how to treat a witness and member of the public. If you’re after a political debate, we can do that elsewhere.”
“You might not like my answers, but if you keep asking the same questions, you are going to get the same answers.”
Muscat’s testimony will continue on another date but not necessarily next week since Muscat said he would have to see if he will be available.
The disgraced former prime minister says he only learned of his former energy minister’s financial machinations – his Panamanian company and his New Zealand trust – that were exposed in the Panama Papers when it came out in the public domain.
Opposition Whip Robert Cutajar, who was standing in for MP David Agius, referenced a 2016 article in The Times of Malta that proved Muscat had been aware of the set-up before that. Muscat, in reply, said he had a lapse of memory.
A good portion of the discussion revolved around the involvement of Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna – the man who set up the financial structures for Mizzi and Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri that were exposed in the Panama Papers – in the power station contract’s evaluation process.
Muscat said he knew Schembri had used Nexia BT but only learned that Mizzi had too, when it became public knowledge. He confirmed that the now-defunct auditing firm used to handle his tax returns between 2004 and 2008 and that he had first been introduced to Tonna by someone outside politics in the early 2000s.
Muscat insisted he had never attended any evaluation committee meetings and did not know why Schembri was present for two of them or why one had been held at the Office of the Prime Minister.
He said he only learned that ElectroGas won the tender when Mizzi informed him.
Asked by Cutajar if Tonna’s presence on the evaluation committee has not sounded any alarm bells, Muscat said, “You might be right, with the benefit of hindsight.”
He insisted he had no access to the tender document before it was issued. He had no say at all in the composition of the evaluation committee or in who was awarded the tender at the end of the day.
He also said neither Mizzi nor Schembri had had any say in the eventual winning bid.