During his fourth appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, Joseph Muscat claimed that the Security of Supply Agreement between the Maltese government and the Azerbaijani state company SOCAR was not part of the consortium agreements but rather an ‘insurance policy’ the government undertook to ensure SOCAR stayed on board should the rest of the consortium declare bankruptcy.
This advice, Muscat stated, was given to the Maltese government by Clifford Chance consultants and was not part of the agreements within the remit of the European Commission because it concerned a “bi-lateral agreement” between the Maltese government and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR.
In his latest reply, Muscat addressed a statement he had made during his testimony on 29 August. When Muscat was asked why his government did not disclose the LNG Security of Supply Agreement signed in favour of Electrogas Malta to the European Commission, he replied at the time that the Commission had “full visibility of all the information”.
In response, the Daphne Caruana Galiza Foundation issued a statement on Tuesday saying that after Muscat’s testimony, the foundation immediately asked the Commission whether this was correct. The European Commission’s reply, published on Tuesday, shows that while the Commission was aware of the possibility of a Security of Supply Agreement, they were not notified of its existence or content, as Muscat implied in his testimony.
“A possible agreement between the Government of Malta and SOCAR was not part of the notification to the Commission and was therefore not assessed in the Commission’s decision”, the Commission’s reply concluded.
Today’s session of the Public Accounts Committee was marked with all the characteristics to which we have become accustomed, including cutting remarks by Muscat and bickering between the Labour and Nationalist members of the Committee.
There were also several instances where Muscat and the Labour members of the Committee repeatedly insisted that questions asked by the Committee’s chair, Darren Carabott, were “outside the Committee’s remit“.
Accompanied by long-time aide Mark Farrugia, the disgraced former prime minister started off his testimony by clarifying several statements made during the previous session, including the net asset value of Gasol plc, a former partner of the Electrogas consortium and clarifications on the excise duty paid by Electrogas.
While confirming that the Energy Ministry led by Konrad Mizzi negotiated the excise duty agreement, Muscat was asked about the testimony of his former minister, who had told the Committee that he was not responsible for the negotiations and was unaware of who was on the negotiating team.
Insisting that the excise decision was “the right one,” Muscat stated that if nobody wanted to shoulder responsibility, “I will do it.”
When asked if he ever requested the police to investigate alleged wrongdoing in the Electrogas deal, Muscat replied that authorities were investigating several allegations of corruption involving his closest aides, former chief of staff Keith Schembri and Mizzi.
Muscat stated that he was named the 2019 Person of the Year by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) due to lobbying by unnamed individuals. However, he expressed that this dishonour has made his life difficult as he must constantly explain and defend this title during due diligence processes.
Muscat’s latest appearance in front of the Public Accounts Committee was in a similar vein to those that preceded it. During the session held on 29 August, the disgraced former prime minister argued, among other things, that the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry’s conclusions about the Electrogas deal were “factually incorrect”.
In its conclusions, the public inquiry had expressed concern that then Finance Minister Edward Scicluna was not involved in negotiations concerning the project – a considerable undertaking that, by Muscat’s admission, was unlike any other handled by his government.
According to Muscat, who has often seized opportunities to criticise the members of the board of inquiry, the three judges who sat on the inquiry either “did not understand” the detail of the Electrogas deal or had been “misguided” by some of the witnesses who testified before the inquiry, Muscat argued to the PAC. His statement drew a response from The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.
In a press release, the foundation wrote: “It is worth recalling that it was Joseph Muscat who, as prime minister, appointed the board of the public inquiry and approved its terms of reference and that the board drew up its report after hearing the testimony of multiple witnesses, including Joseph Muscat himself.”
The Public Accounts Committee session in July also devolved into a shouting match between the Labour and Nationalist Party committee members. Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo claimed that committee chair and opposition MP Darren Carabott was acting as “judge, jury and executioner” through his line of questioning.
All the while, Muscat prefaced most of his answers to the Committee’s questions with “this is outside the PAC’s remit”, stalling and avoiding direct answers to questions levelled at him by Carabott.
And in the session before that, during the Public Accounts Committee meeting on 27 June, Muscat went on the offensive during the hearing. During that meeting, Muscat told Carabott, “I could take you anytime, anywhere,” accusing Carabott of chairing the meeting in an overly partisan way.
The clash followed repeated questions from Carabott asking Muscat whether he approved of comments that Mizzi made to Schembri to the effect that “I want to do what you do because everything you touch turns into gold”.
After Muscat concluded his latest testimony, the meeting concluded with both sides arguing whether a representative of NGO Friends of the Earth (FOE) should be summoned to testify about a report on the power plant’s environmental impact.