Panama Papers haunts Leo Brincat as MEPs vote overwhelmingly against auditor nomination

European People’s Party – the largest party in the EP – votes against Leo Brincat's nomination in 381 votes against, 229 for and 58 absentions

Leo Brincat
Leo Brincat

Adds statements by Leo Brincat, the government, the Nationalist Party, Alternattiva Demokratika and the Labour Party

Leo Brincat’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors has fallen in its second hurdle as the European Parliament voted against his nomination.

With 215 MEPs, the European People’s Party is the largest group in the European Parliament to have signalled it would vote against Brincat's nomination, which was turned down by 381 MEPs, supported by 229, while another 58 abstained.

This makes Brincat the second Maltese nominee to be refused by the European Parliament for the Court of Auditors, after Toni Abela was turned down by the Budgetary Control Committee.

It was also a sign that Malta's stain by the Panama Papers revelations had also tarnished Brincat, who voted against a confidence motion against minister Konrad Mizzi, a subject of which he was asked about by MEPs in the Budgetary Control Committee.

Tuesday’s vote by the parliament is not binding or conclusive, which means Brincat could still decide to go on and seek the approval of the Council, which may decide to overturn the parliament’s vote, as he hinted in this tweet:

"I am satisfied that throughout this process, nobody had any doubts about my integrity, competence and abilities. Thank you for your support," he added in a Facebook comment.

In an official comment, Brincat said the plenary vote "provides little light on why the positive vote" on his nomination by the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee was reversed.

"The members of this Committee led me to declare that I would respect their decision, which in my case was a positive one. I also note that at no stage of the plenary process, or that of the hearing by the Budgetary Control Committee, were my integrity, competence, knowledge and experience ever put in any doubt," Brincat said.

"I, therefore, feel comforted in referring my nomination to the Council of Ministers, in line with the governance mechanisms of the EU Treaties regarding appointments of members to the European Court of Auditors."

The rapporteur for the Budgetary Control Committee, which accepted his nomination during Brincat's grilling, acknowledged it only had a consultative role in the matter but asked that the Council respects the plenary vote.

In a statement, the government said it was displeased at the European Parliament's vote, saying that Brincat's nomination will be decided upon by the European Council, which will require unanimous approval.

"It is a pity that Maltese MEPs did not support his nomination, purely for the partisan gain of the Opposition, something that confirms how its interests lies in politicla games and not the country's interest. "A serious Opposition would have put Malta first in all international fora, without reservations."

In their reaction, the Nationalist Party turned the tables onto Joseph Muscat, blaming him and the Panama Papers revelations for both Brincat’s and Toni Abela’s rejection.

“The Prime Minister should stop tarnishing our country’s reputation,” the PN leader tweeted.

The Opposition said it would be ready to support any Maltese nomination, “as long as the person makes Malta proud”. It also criticised government for failing to consult it ahead of the nominations.

Alternattiva Demokratika blamed the government as well, arguing that Malta was “paying for Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri’s unethical behavior”.

“Brincat, who had the political experience and the professional background to do a decent job in the European Court of Auditors, was quite ambivalent in his answers at the EP parliamentary hearing, after having voted in favour of Konrad Mizzi in a motion of no confidence,” Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola said.

“He is now paying for the shameful unethical behaviour of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in the Panama Papers affair."

The Labour Party condemned the decision by Nationalist MEPs to vote against Leo Brincat’s nomination and said it was clear that the PN had chosen partisan interests over the national interest.

It said it was shameful that Maltese MEPs – elected by the people to represent the best interests of the country – vote against the approval of a Maltese nominee, which, it said, was exactly what PN MEPs did.

“They did this after Brincat’s nomination had already been approved by the committee for budgetary control and after his comptence and integrity had been reaffirmed in the parliamentary hearing,” it said.

The PL said the PN MEPs’ vote was evidence of how the opposition was interested solely in gaining political ground and was not concerned with safeguarding the country’s interests.

AD said that Malta’s reputation was being damaged and things “can only get worse”. Cassola reminded that an investigation committee of the EP will be coming to Malta by the end of the year to collect facts and interview witnesses.

"It is imperative that Prime Minister immediately ditches Mizzi, Schembri and any other politician and hangers-on involved in the Panama Papers scandal. Malta simply cannot afford being foul-mouthed internationally any longer because of this lot, even more soon on the eve of taking up the EU Presidency in January.”

The EPP, the Nationalist Party's grouping in the EP, said that the Panama Papers and the sale-of-citizenship scheme were doing “untold damage” to Malta’s reputation.

“We cannot in our wildest dreams accept Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors, out of all institutions, as his was until recently part and parcel of this government,” it said in a statement. “For the sake of Malta’s interests, we implore Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to see sense and nominate an independent and competent candidate.”

The statement was most welcomed by PN leader Simon Busuttil who said: “The vote will not be about Leo Brincat, but about Joseph Muscat and about whether it is acceptable for him to have kept Konrad Mizzi as a Cabinet minister after the Panama Papers scandal."

But while Busuttil may have eyed an opportunity, former PN leadership contender and entrepreneur Ray Bugeja expressed an opposing view to Busuttil's sentiment. He said that, the vote is going to be one for Malta: "Brincat should be judged on his qualities, not for toeing the party line”.

Lawyer Robert Abela, son of former president George Abela, questioned on Facebook whether the PN had notified the EEP that the citiizenship-for-sale scheme was being pushed and sold by agents that were also top PN officials.

Brincat narrowly passed last week’s vote by the EP’s committee for budgetary control – with 11 votes in favour, nine against and one abstention. Those who voted in favour of Brincat included Labour MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant, who was present as a substitute for a substitute MEP.

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