Removal of time-barring on political corruption, a Nationalist prerogative – Gonzi
Prime Minister says presidential pardon to oil trader, not Austin Gatt’s Swiss funds, is the story at stake in Enemalta scandal.
16 February 2013, 12:00am
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has pledged to remove the statute of limitations on political corruption, in a review of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption to strengthen the watchdog.
The proposal, identical to Labour's bid to remove time-barring for any corruption that takes place inside the political class, will be part of a review that will assign a full-time investigator to the PCAC, as well as have a president of the commission approved by a two-thirds majority of the House.
Replying to questions from Andrew Azzopardi on Radju Malta's Ghandi Xi Nghid, Gonzi paid tribute to his Cabinet's decision to grant oil trader George Farrugia a presidential pardon in a bid to uncover all evidence pointing to the payment of kickbacks by companies like Trafigura for the sale of oil to Enemalta.
Skirting for a moment the issue of his embattled minister Austin Gatt, who was responsible for Enemalta in 2004 when the alleged kickbacks were paid to Enemalta consultant and MOBC chief executive Frank Sammut, Gonzi was adamant to focus on his role in granting Farrugia a pardon:
"To me this is the crucial point of the story. The government was not scared of giving police the strongest tool possible to uncover any wrongdoing. We made the conditions public, and the pardon is conditional on Farrugia refunding all his illicit gains, with a €250,000 payment that must be made within five days."
Gonzi accused Labour of harbouring an agenda intended at alienating people from the fight against corruption by attacking Austin Gatt. "Labour is questioning the validity of this pardon... when we took action and brought about results in the fight against corruption. The worst disaster would be to have someone taken up to court who is then released because there was no evidence. But we managed to find a good case to take up to court," Gonzi said.
The prime minister also referred to questions raised about Gatt's own Swiss bank account, which he clarified are funds and stocks that had been inherited by Gatt from his father.
"It's not a bank account but stocks, or funds, which his father bequeathed to his mother and then was passed on to Gatt and his siblings."
Gonzi said that the fact that Gatt did not declare this USB stock after 2005 in his parliamentary returns, was not a breach of ethics.
"He did not declared it after 2005 due to a division of this inheritance in his family, and there's nothing strange at all about. Otherwise, why would he have declared it up until 2005? It would have been a breach had he not declared it intentionally. It was a mistake, he left it out of the returns. He gave his explanation, and he has supplied details of this fund to the Commissioner of Police to ensure that no money was deposited or extractd from this account."
Gonzi turned his attention onto Labour, saying Joseph Muscat was defending deputy leader for party affairs Toni Abela "when he intentionally sought out a Labourite police officer to quash a criminal report into an incident that took place at a Labour party club... this evokes bad memories of Labour's manipulation of the police force in the 1980s. Shivers should be going down this country's spine at hearing all this."
Gonzi also said that statements by former deputy leader Anglu Farrugia denouncing Labour's links with big business was a confirmation of why Labour had a well-funded electoral campaign.
"We now see GWU secretary-general Tony Zarb favouring companies competing in government tenders, and Toni Abela seeking out Labourite police officers... a case of using your influence to your own advantage."
Gonzi dubbed Muscat as a 'bad doctor', replying to questions about the PN's electioneering tactic to warn voters from toying with a change in government.
"Would you choose a doctor who gives you bad medicine once, twice, three times? Or would you rather have the doctor that always gives you good medicine? Muscat didn't want us to join the EU, robbing us of important EU funds that went for the educational advancement that I have been witnessing recently.
"He was against us joining the eurozone, and beckoned me to take the Cypriot direction... and look at where Cyprus is now, economically. And he was against our reforms in energy and public transport.
"So should one heed a doctor who gives our bad advice, and trust the country in his hands?"
The prime minister once again warned listeners of giving in to Muscat's claims that an LNG terminal and power station were feasible options for Malta's energy problems.
"This will be a bomb," Gonzi categorically stated. "We will have two gas tanks, the size of two Mosta domes, built next to a power station. It is incredibly irresponsible. We should not fool ourselves."
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