Ann Fenech hits out at Labour in libel case: denies involvement in Panama allegations

Ann Fenech rejects allegations of having helped clients set up Panama companies similar to that declared by Konrad Mizzi

Maritime lawyer Ann Fenech had sued Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as leader of the Labour Party and Daniel Micallef as its president over press statements
Maritime lawyer Ann Fenech had sued Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as leader of the Labour Party and Daniel Micallef as its president over press statements

President of the Nationalist council Ann Fenech has comprehensively rejected allegations of having helped clients set up companies in Panama, similar to that declared by OPM Minister Konrad Mizzi, as she testified in a libel suit she filed against Labour leader Joseph Muscat and party President Daniel Micallef.

Fenech had sued Muscat and Micallef over press statements, issued by the party on 3 and 6 March this year, in which it was alleged that Fenech, who is also a leading maritime lawyer, would have no qualms in setting up companies in Panama, “as she has already done for her clients.”

The statement of 6 March states that she had been involved in Panama-registered companies since 2003 and had failed to disclose this. 

She explained that in 2003, Fenlex Corporate Services – an offshoot of Fenech and Fenech Advocates – had assisted a client in opening Timber Trading Capital Inc and Union Private Inc, in Panama. Fenech, however, pointed out that she had only become a director of the law firm in 2005.

“They tried to put me in the same basket as Konrad Mizzi,” she said, lashing out at what she described as the “gratuitous lies” the party was peddling.

Fenech explained that another factually incorrect statement was that she had pocketed around a million euros for consultancy services rendered to Air Malta.

Fenech and Fenech law firm had done some work for the airline as a law firm, she said, but any payment was received by the firm, not the individual lawyers. Fenech is managing partner of the law firm.

“The fallout of this was around 30 billboards of me with the slogan 'The lady in Panama',” she complained.

The fallout continued in the following week, she said. “On the strength of that statement...several PL representatives went on the TV. [During that period] every day, someone was trying to put me in the same basket as Konrad Mizzi.”

“Konrad Mizzi went on Timestalk saying that Timber and Union were incorporated by Fenlex and insinuated that that I was the ultimate beneficial owner... well done, so he tries to use something that I cannot legally do – reveal the beneficial owner of a company that my firm incorporated – to make it look like I am doing something wrong.”

If someone were to be made to disclose the UBO (ultimate beneficial owner) of a Maltese registered company, it would destroy the Financial Services sector, she said.

The setting up of offshore tax structures was not to be confused with the registration of ships under the Panamanian flag, she said. “If there is a Panama-registered vessel that needs our assistance of course I will assist – it's the second biggest flag state in the world.”

Fenech's lawyer, Joe Zammit Maempel asked whether she was the UBO of any Panama-registered company. “No, I am not a UBO of any company registered in Panama,” she replied categorically. “From my information, in 2003/4 Panama had not even been blacklisted. It was blacklisted in 2015.”

Fenech told the court that she hadn't sued Mizzi, Chris Cardona or Robert Abela, who had all repeated the allegations, because they were only saying what they said on the strength of the PL's statements. “Without them they wouldn't have the wind in their sails.”

“At the end of the day, people were asking 'what is this Ann Fenech person doing?' There was a conference called Opportunities in Super Yachts in March 2016 in which we were participating. Many people came from abroad. As soon as they arrive, outside the airport, they find that billboard with my name on it.”

She recalled one attendee telling her that “we fully believe in your innocence”. “I don't know what is more offensive, the poster or the fact that someone was led to believe I was guilty of something.”

“I have been working in the maritime sector for 30 years. I am also the President of the Malta Maritime Authority, the European Maritime Law Organisation and two years ago I was elected as an executive member of the Conseil Maritime de Façade (CMF). The CMF, a council of 13 members, is responsible for the drafting of the International Maritime Organisation's conventions, Fenech explained. “You can only imagine the quality of rubbish and humiliation I had to endure, where I had to explain what was happening in Malta. Why? Because according to the Malta Labour Party, I was incorporating companies in Panama and unlike Konrad Mizzi, I hadn't declared them.”

More fallout, she said, was an article by former PL President Manuel Cuschieri, written on the strength of the PL statement, which warned the lawyer to “prepare herself for many questions,” she said. “Look at how bad the misinformation causes people, even of certain stature, to be misled.”

Not everyone was convinced, however. Other sections of the press had attempted to point out that the party was “talking rubbish,” Fenech recalled.

“A journalist had asked Prime Minister Joseph Muscat what he was doing to do about Konrad Mizzi and the PM had replied 'mhux ahjar issaqsini dwar Ann Fenech?' (“Shouldn't you be asking me about Ann Fenech?”) Whoever watches the news and sees this, wouldn't it cross his mind that Ann Fenech had done something wrong?”

Fenech also denied allegations that she had benefited from the Individual Investor Programme, despite her party's opposition to the scheme. While the law firm in which she is a partner did participate in the controversial cash-for-passports scheme, Fenech denied being directly involved in the individual investor programme.

“The statements contain nothing of the truth. They are aimed solely at putting me in a bad light and damaging my reputation...If there is something that I have been saying for over a year since the Individual Investor Programme scheme was introduced, it was that I will not, have not, nor will I ever participate in it. I have never handled a single application, on a point of principle.”

Lawyer Paul Lia, appearing for the defendants, reserved the right to contest the relevance and admissibility of some of the evidence tendered by plaintiff, saying that she had said a lot of things for the benefit of the media who were present in the courtroom.

Lawyers Joe Zammit Maempel and Antonio Ghio are representing Fenech. Lawyer Paul Lia is representing the Labour Party.

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