In DB Group case, party financing laws have been broken, Labour insists

Justice minister: ‘There is no uncertainty; a donation to NET television is the same as one to the PN’

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Yannick Pace
13 March 2017, 1:15pm
Last updated on 13 March 2017, 3:36pm
Justice minister Owen Bonnici (left) and tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Justice minister Owen Bonnici (left) and tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
The Labour Party has insisted that the Nationalist Party accepting payments from the db Group via its media company Media.link goes against party financing laws introduced in 2014.

Justice minister Owen Bonnici, speaking at a press conference with tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis, said that Article 2 of the law clearly refers to companies owned by the parties.

Referring to an interview with Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, carried in The Sunday Times of Malta, Bonnici accused Busuttil of lying a number of times in the interview, including on whether the law also relates to companies owned by the parties.

Owen Bonnici - Minister for Justice (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Owen Bonnici - Minister for Justice (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
“There is no uncertainty, a donation to NET television is the same as one to the PN,” said Bonnici. “What Simon Busuttil said yesterday is not true, the law does not exclude party companies.”

Moreover, he said that Busuttil's assertion that he had found the PN in a bad financial state did not give him the right to break the law.

“A poor person does not go and rob a bank just because he has no money. The law is there for everyone,” he added.

Zammit Lewis rubbished Busuttil’s attempts to try and portray himself as being out of the party fold before becoming leader.

“He was an MEP and an author of at least two manifestos. He was chosen specifically by Lawrence Gonzi and he was also deputy leader of the party,” said Zammit Lewis.

“He was part of the administration and was very much aware of what was happening,” he said, adding that many in the PN – previously unaware of what had been going on – were angered by the revelations.

Zammit Lewis said that the country was still awaiting publication of Media.link’s invoices for services rendered to the db Group.

“We are saying ahead of publication that the invoices are fake. He can't hide behind commercial sensitivity,” he said.

Zammit Lewis said that Busuttil should publish the invoices immediately, especially given that he has repeatedly criticised the government’s refusal to publish what it said was commercially sensitive information in contracts it had signed with third parties.

The minister said he would once again be asking Busuttil two specific questions: When will the invoices be published, and whether there are other similar arrangements for the payment of salaries of other PN officials.

Responding to a question regarding whether or not the law is comprehensive enough, in its regulation on party companies, to identify transactions which do not correspond with any services provided, Bonnici said that the law gives powers to the Electoral Commission to regulate such matters.

“Whenever the Commission suspects that the law has been broken, it has an obligation to investigate. We have given it the necessary tools to investigate,” said Bonnici.

He added that the Commission has the power to professional auditors to help it in its work and, prior to the latest revelations regarding the db Group, had already engaged KPMG to help it its work.

“The firm will have all the powers that the law gives it to investigate such matters,” he said.

Moreover, he said the as far as the law itself is concerned, a review of the law by GRECO – The Group of States Against Corruption that was established to monitor member states’ compliance with anti-corruption standards – had found in its latest review that the law was “good, robust and effective. “ 

 

PN reaction

Reacting to the press conference, the Nationalist Party said that people couldn’t not take Zammit Lewis and Bonnici seriously when the Labour Party (PL) itself is not conforming with the law.

The PN pointed out that the Labour Party had not registered as a political party in the stipulated timeframe, had not presented its list of donation received last year and was paying some of its officials using government funds.

In all three cases, the PL is breaking the law, said the PN.

“The PN has already explained that the ties Media.Link had with companies Silvio Debono is involved with, consisted of programming sponsorships on NET TV that in 2016 amounted to a total of €70,800, including VAT,” read a statement by the PN.

It added that the commercial relationship conforms with the law, “which in any case, applies only to political parties that receive donations for the organization of functions and activities and doesn’t apply to commercial companies.”

 

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Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...