Panama Papers expected to feature in ‘awkward’ grilling of ECA nominee Leo Brincat

Malta’s nominee to the European Court of Auditors Leo Brincat faces tough grilling with his refusal to back a no-confidence motion against minister Konrad Mizzi during the Panama Papers scandal, expected to take centre-stage

Malta's nominee to the European Court of Auditors Leo Brincat • Photo: Ray Attard
Malta's nominee to the European Court of Auditors Leo Brincat • Photo: Ray Attard

Malta’s nominee to the European Court of Auditors (ECA) Leo Brincat will today face one of the toughest political challenges as he will be facing a tough grilling from the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee in Brussels

Brincat, who until his nomination in April occupied the post of environment minister, will be the government’s second nominee for the post after the first nominee, former Labour deputy leader Toni Abela, was turned down by MEPs following a grueling grilling stunted by his lack of experience in top-level government posts, as well as being overshadowed by questions focusing on his political life both before and after the 2013 election.

Unlike Abela, Brincat, a seasoned politician and a Labour heavyweight who has repeatedly been elected to parliament since 1982, can bank on his political experience to get him through the grilling.

Nonetheless, he is still expected to face a stern test today with MEPs expected to grill him on his refusal to back of no-confidence motion in former energy minister Konrad Mizzi – the now ‘minister without portfolio’ and Brincat’s former Cabinet colleague who was mentioned in the Panama Papers after having been revealed to have offshore interests.

Indeed, the 67-year-old may have a tough time convincing MEPs why he had stood by Konrad Mizzi while fears continue to persist over MEPs’ blurred view of Malta following the Panama Papers revelations.

The press of the European Union has also picked up on the no-confidence motion and the Panama Papers, with Politico predicting an “awkward” grilling for Leo Brincat for having backed Konrad Mizzi.

Moreover, in comments to the Times of Malta, Nationalist MEP David Casa said the former environment minister’s support for Mizzi is expected to feature prominently during the grilling.

“It may prove difficult for Brincat to explain why he defended a man strongly suspected of corruption and money laundering … They [MEPs] will be very well aware of the scandalous situation that Malta finds itself in, following the Panama Papers leak,” Casa said.

Casa’s comments were also voiced by Igor Šoltes, a Green MEP from Slovenia and former president of the ERA, who in comments to Politico, warned that Malta’s nominee could face many questions on his stand and about the possible conflict and ethical issues.

Brincat was among four senior Cabinet members who were revealed to have told a Labour Party parliamentary meeting that Konrad Mizzi should resign - only for them to still vote against the no-confidence motion - but has repeatedly refused to confirm his views in public.

Moreover, in comments to MaltaToday, Brincat, known in politics for his mild-mannered and measured approach, once again remained tight-lipped and refused to say why he had stood by Konrad Mizzi.

“I have decided that I won’t comment to the press ahead of my [ECA] interview,” he said.

However, in a pre-hearing questionnaire, Brincat said he “would deal with any major case of irregularity/fraud/corruption in the same way for all cases irrespective of whether they may be related to my Country or else to any other EU Member State.”

Today’s hearing will be followed by a secret vote to determine whether Brincat should serve as a member of the Luxembourg-based EU auditing watchdog for the coming six years.

If the committee approves Brincat candidacy, a vote by all 751 MEPs must then take place before EU member countries confirm his appointment. If approved, Brincat will replace former PN minister Louis Galea as Malta’s member of the European Court of Auditors.

The role comes with a monthly €20,000 salary, as well as €40,000 in installation expenses, reimbursement of family and moving expenses - an annual salary of at least €240,000 apart from other regular allowances.

MEPs on Monday will also quiz Portugal’s João Figueiredo and Cyprus’ Lazaros Lazarou about roles at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg.