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Updated | 'Audits will provide all answers on my Panama company', Mizzi tells MEPs

'My financial affairs have been very clear from the start...the truth will come out soon' - Konrad Mizzi 

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
25 January 2017, 4:37pm
Last updated on 25 January 2017, 6:25pm
OPM Minister Konrad Mizzi addressing MEPs during an energy policy hearing (Photo: Ray Attard/EU2017MT)
OPM Minister Konrad Mizzi addressing MEPs during an energy policy hearing (Photo: Ray Attard/EU2017MT)
De facto energy minister Konrad Mizzi dodged questions by MEPs on his Panama company, insisting that all questions will be answered following the publication of two ongoing audits.

Mizzi, currently the chair of the EU’s energy council, was facing the European Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee to outline Malta’s energy priorities throughout its presidency of the EU Council.

However, he also faced questions from Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola and German Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer on his offshore company, that was revealed in last year’s global Panama Papers scandal.

Casa noted that the Panama bank account that Mizzi’s financial advisors had attempted to open would have required the minister to make deposits to the tune of $1 million a year.

“Where was that $1 million going to come from?” Casa asked.

Metsola said it was “surreal” that Mizzi, as the only European minister implicated in the Panama Papers, was addressing the European Parliament as chair of the EU’s energy council as though the scandal hadn’t even happened.

“It seems obvious to everyone that your credibility is non-existent and your presentation today immaterial. It’s bad enough that you’re forcing Malta to pay the price for your actions, but now you’re dragging the EU’s energy council into it too.”

She repeated Casa’s question, and also demanded he reveal the identity of the ultimate beneficiary owner of Egrant, the third Panama company – besides that of Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri – that was set up at the behest of Nexia BT.

“Tell the world right here who Egrant belongs to,” she demanded.

PN MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola tried to grill Konrad Mizz about his Panama company
PN MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola tried to grill Konrad Mizz about his Panama company
Greens MEP Reinhard Butikofer questioned how Mizzi can be chairing EU Energy Council meetings when he was stripped off that portfolio last year, because of his involvement in Panama Papers scandal. However, all the other six MEPs – including Labour MEP Miriam Dalli – who questioned Mizzi today did not even refer to the Panama Papers scandal.

Mizzi responded that his position has been clear from the start and that two separate audits – one on his financial set-ups and another on his personal financial affairs in general – will “soon” reveal the truth.

“My financial affairs have been very clear from the start. I set up a family trust and an underlying company to manage my family assets and investments,” he said. “I voluntarily requested a tax audit on all my financial affairs, something that no Maltese politician has ever done. I have been scrutinized on the [Panama] matter and on all my financial issues, and I have no problem with that. I’m sure that the truth will come out soon.”

Mizzi said that he had been advised to ignore questions related to Maltese politics, but chose to respond anyway “out of respect to MEPs”.

Mizzi was stripped off his health and energy portfolios last year after he was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal, but has maintained oversight of the energy sector in Malta. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat chose Mizzi to chair the EU’s energy council during Malta’s six-month presidency, arguing that the disgraced minister was the “best positioned” for the role.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has taken the European Commission to task for not speaking out against Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri’s Panama companies, warning that it is ignoring the anger of the Maltese public.

“Many Maltese people are angry at the European Commission for not speaking out because it’s an issue that they care about,” Busuttil told EC President Jean-Claude Juncker earlier this month. “Is it acceptable for Brussels that a minister owns a secret Panama company?”

PN MEPs have warned that Muscat’s refusal to sack Mizzi has harmed Malta’s negotiating position to fight EU pressure for tax harmonisation. However, Labour MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant has dismissed such warning as “small island talk”, arguing that Mizzi himself has got nothing to do with the way the Panama Papers is being discussed internally at the European Parliament.  

‘Audit is irrelevant' – PN

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party accused Mizzi of once again dodging questions and of deceiving the MEPs in the committee.

“It is not true that the famous audit will answer all of our questions,” the PN said in a statement. “The audit is irrelevant because Mizzi chose Panama precisely to keep the details of his company under wraps.

“Joseph Muscat has lost all control over his ministers, and the only thing he is capable of supervising is corruption.”