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Update 2 | After de Marco case, Busuttil sounds warning to MPs having conflict of interest

Simon Busuttil says Opposition would be asking Auditor General to investigate contract for the transfer of the ITS site in St George’s Bay, db Group welcomes scrutiny • Beppe Fenech Adami says inquiry into Gozo drug prosecution a 'smokescreen', Labour says Busuttil lost all credibility

danielmizzi
Daniel Mizzi
5 March 2017, 1:17pm
Last updated on 5 March 2017, 2:53pm
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (left) and PN deputy leader Mario de Marco (right)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (left) and PN deputy leader Mario de Marco (right)
Any politician who has a conflict of interest between their interests and those of the party whom they represent have no place in politics and must choose, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil warned today.

Speaking to PN faithful in Marsa, the PN leader praised deputy leader Mario de Marco for having renounced his position as part of the Seabank Group’s legal team for the development of public land in St George’s Bay.

The PN leader’s remarks were made after MaltaToday on Sunday reported that the legal firm Guido de Marco & Associates renounced its brief as advisors to DB Group on its St George’s Bay project, 24 hours after the PN deputy leader denied having been involved in negotiations with the government on the concession of the site of ITS.

However, in comments to MaltaToday, de Marco, whose party has in parliament raised questions over the €60 million price tag for the land, confirmed that he had attended several meetings dealing with the concession of the land, including meetings held at Castille.

“People had a right to question Mario de Marco’s involvement in the St George’s Bay project and had a right to a clear answer … Whenever there is a conflict of interest involving politicians, the politicians must choose between the interests of his own and those of the party. Mario de Marco did just that and he chose the PN,” Busuttil said.

Last Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that De Marco's firm was engaged by SD Finance plc - a newly created public limited company owned by the developers of the DB San Gorg - which is expected to serve as the vehicle to raise public funds for the hotel and luxury home venture.

“As soon as it emerged there was a clear conflict, I spoke to Mario de Marco who told me that his firm had acted as legal advisor to the DB Group for a long time. Soon after, Mario de Marco informed me that he would be no longer involved in the project and would renounce his position.”

"I expect that whenever someone is faced with such conflicts of interests, a choice must be made,” Busuttil argued.

The PN leader also insisted that de Marco’s decision showed that the party’s position would not be dictated by private interests outside the party, and had also exposed the differences between the Nationalist Party and the government.

“Neither the PN nor myself are for sale. The PN will not be bought by anyone, we are in nobody’s pockets and are interests would not be decided by those outside the party,” he said.

“While Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has done nothing about [OPM chief of staff] Keith Schembri and [minister] Konrad Mizzi a year after the Panama Papers scandal broke, the PN took action less than 24 hours later and is leading by example,” Busuttil said.

The PN leader also announced that the Opposition would be referring the contract entered into between the db Group and the government for the transfer of the ITS site in St George’s Bay to the Auditor General to be investigated.

“The SeaBank Group would be paying just €15 million for the site and not €60 million as the government had originally announced. It is no wonder that we are asking several questions, and why the government’s answers have been unsatisfactory. Consequently, the Opposition will be asking the Auditor General to investigate this case, more so since the government had failed to obtain a parliamentary resolution prior to the transfer of this public land,” he said.

The announcment was welcomed by the db Group (formerly Seabank Group) who in a statement, said that "no one in this country is more eager for the truth to win out on this matter than our Group."

"The reason is obvious to those who have the decency to hear. For the first time in history, the price of the public land in question was not determined by the parties to the deal but by Deloitte, an auditing firm of international repute. And we, as a group, abided by its decision," dp said.

Beppe Fenech Adami: Inquiry into Gozo drug prosecution a 'smokescreen'

Earlier, PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami hit out at the “obscene” political intervention in the prosecution of an alleged drug trafficker in Gozo, claiming that the inquiry set up by the government to investigate the case was nothing but a “smokescreen”. 

Fenech Adami’s remarks were made after MaltaToday revealed how undue political influence allowed a Gozitan person accused of drugs possession to change their version of events in a new police statement.

“These people were accused of drug trafficking and after the intervention of two individuals close to Joseph Muscat, these same people who want to sell drugs to kill our children were never arraigned,” he said.

The report led Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to announce the setting up of an inquiry.

The inquiry is being lead by Lawyer John Vassallo, who the PN said is a former Labour candidate and also deputy chairman of the Lands Authority.

“Joseph Muscat did not appoint a judge, but appointed a friend to investigate his friends. This is obscene, the investigation is nothing but a smokescreen,” he said.

The PN deputy leader also insisted that the CapitalOne inquiry, launched after MaltaToday published its story in October 2016, had shown that he did not interfere in the police investigation of January 2013. The PN deputy leader – who, at the time of the CapitalOne money laundering investigation was a parliamentary assistant for home affairs -  said the inquiry had “burst the government’s bubble” as it showed that he did not interfere in the police investigation or try to stop the Attorney General’s investigation.

“The inquiry was published four months after a deceitful campaign against me was launched by Joseph Muscat and his corrupt and lying clique. The inquiry showed that I did not abuse of my position, and did not interfere in the police investigation,” Fenech Adami said.

The board of inquiry has declared it cannot exclude the possibility that the criminal investigation failed to gather steam when the name of Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami cropped up in January 2013. Moreover, the inquiry made a clear declaration that the CapitalOne investigation – for reasons unknown – was shorn of any guidance from police superiors when it merited a proper investigation by anti-money laundering inspectors.

The PN deputy leader also fired a salvo against Joseph Muscat, claiming that it was  “surreal” how the prime minister had referred the contents of the CapitalOne inquiry to the police and the Financial Intelligence Unit while he  kept on defending Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, despite the latter having been revealed to have owned Panamanian offshore companies.

Busuttil ‘lost all credibility’ – Labour Party

In a reaction, the Labour Party said Busuttil had “lost all credibility” and challenged the PN leader to reveal the extent of his prior knowledge about Mario de Marco’s conflict of interest as legal advisory to the San Gorg developers.

“Simon Busuttil should say why he did not act immediately when he knew of Mario de Marco’s involvement and his involvement and the ITS contract,” it said.

The Labour Party also accused the Nationalist Party of ignoring the conclusions of the CapitalOne inquiry. “The inquiry effectively states that when Beppe Fenech Adami cropped up, the investigation stopped. His name turned the investigation into a hot potato that could have brought unpleasant consequences on whoever dared to handle it,” it said.

“A person with integrity should uphold his responsibilities at all times, even when personal interests might suggest otherwise. As opposed to what Simon Busuttil said, the inquiry suggested that further investigations be carried out,” it continued.

danielmizzi
Daniel Mizzi reports from the law courts.