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29th Mar 2020

MEPs grill 'laughing' Muscat on corruption claims

  • Muscat (l): "If there is a shred of truth in it, then I’ll resign" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Centre-right and Green MEPs grilled Malta’s leader, Joseph Muscat, in the European Parliament on Wednesday (14 June), amid four ongoing corruption probes.

Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right EPP group, which called for the plenary discussion on Malta, said the “substance of the debate” was “why is there still a minister in your cabinet who is the only minister in Europe whose name appears in the Panama Papers database?”.

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  • Langen (l): "You can sit there laughing if you like, but you won’t get off scott-free" (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

He also attacked Muscat for having “refused” to give the EU “an open look into what’s wrong in your party”.

His criticism referred to Konrad Mizzi, Malta’s new tourism minister, who was named, along with Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, as having set up offshore firms in the Panama Papers leak.

A Maltese blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia, also said Muscat’s wife had a secret bank account and accused the government of taking kickbacks from a Maltese passport sale scheme run by Henley & Partners, a British firm.

The accusations are being investigated by Maltese magistrates in four ongoing probes.

But Sven Giegold, a German Green MEP, told the EU parliament on Wednesday that more investigations should be opened into alleged money-laundering by Schembri and the Maltese-based Pilatus Bank.

He said leaked reports by Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, which he circulated to press, had “incriminated” Schembri, but that these reports had “unfortunately not led to the opening of any [judicial] processes” in Malta.

The most vicious attacks came from Malta’s opposition Nationalist Party, which sits in the EPP group.

David Casa, a Nationalist Party MEP, said Muscat risked “going down as the most corrupt leader in the history of Malta” and that he had harmed Malta’s reputation at a time when it held the EU presidency.

“You can see what our country has become”, he said.

Muscat sat through the two-hour long debate checking his mobile phone and smiling.

He then gave a fiery speech accusing some MEPs of relying on “fake news” in “blogs” and “social media” in their interventions.

He said the EU parliament debate should not have taken place before the Maltese probes had ended.

“If there is room for prosecutions, resignations will be offered. I’m amazed this fact was not taken into consideration - there are four separate matters under judicial investigation”, he said.

He said that he was willing to answer questions from the parliament’s Panama Papers committee of enquiry after those probes were concluded.

He also said it was an “outright lie” that his wife had a secret account and that “if there was a shred of truth in it, then I’ll resign”.

He added that “everyone points to this [Caruana Galizia’s] blog” in their attacks and “marvelled that some respectable members of this house have taken this fake news and reported it as fact”.

The EU commissioner in charge of financial affairs, Pierre Moscovici, took a similar line.

“There is a judicial enquiry under way in Malta and the commission does not comment on any investigation which is under way”, he said.

The centre-left S&D and Liberal groups also said the debate was premature.

Marlene Mizzi, an MEP from Muscat’s centre-left Labour Party, noted that the EPP and the Nationalist Party had originally wanted to hold the event prior to Malta’s recent elections in order to “trash” her party’s reputation.

“They should be ashamed of this … bullying,” she said.

Werner Langen, a German centre-right MEP who heads the Panama Papers committee, hit back at Muscat’s nonchalant manner.

He said that when his committee had invited Muscat to give answers, Muscat “ignored us” and showed “total disdain for the freely elected European Parliament”.

“You can sit there laughing if you like, but you won’t get off scot-free”, he said.

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