Panama Papers committee chairman: Konrad Mizzi will be called to testify

First meeting of the PANA committee in the European Parliament invites ICIJ journalists to discuss their work on Panama Papers

Konrad Mizzi is the only EU minister to have been found having used Panama offshore companies for a family trust he set up
Konrad Mizzi is the only EU minister to have been found having used Panama offshore companies for a family trust he set up

The former energy minister, Konrad Mizzi, could be among the first to be called to testify in the Panama Papers scandal before a European Parliament committee, the chairman of the PANA committee has said.

Today a minister without portfolio, Konrad Mizzi was the only EU minister to be revealed to have opened a Panama offshore company using Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm from which over 11.5 million documents were leaked through the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

Addressing a press conference after the first session of the committee in Brussels, chairman Werner Langen, a German MEP, said that a list of European politicians to be called to the committee had not yet finalised/

Together with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, Mizzi opened a secret offshore company and an offshore trust in New Zealand through Mossack Fonseca’s agent in Malta, the audit firm Nexia BT.

Lander said that Mizzi would be invited to explain his involvement in the Panama Papers scandal to the committee.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has already said “there was no question” that minister Konrad Mizzi should respect an invitation from a committee of MEPs that was set up to investigate the Panama Papers.

“He should definitely go. There is no question about that,” Busuttil told MaltaToday. “However there is only one way in which we can now stem the damage caused to Malta’s reputation by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri and that is their immediate dismissal.”

Konrad Mizzi has been adamant not to be brought into a debate as to whether he feels he should give MEPs an explanation of his financial affairs and why he chose to open an offshore company in Panama and a New Zealand trust. “I have not received any correspondence from the committee, and I will reply to that correspondence when it arrives,” Mizzi said two weeks ago, his stand unchanged in a week where MEPs from the European socialist party decided not to support Leo Brincat’s nomination to become a member of the European Court of Auditors.

Government sources have previously said that it was likely that Mizzi would not attend a hearing before the Panama committee.

EU member states have in fact been advised by the Council of Ministers’ legal service that MEPs could not assume upon themselves the power of the European Commission to ask member states on how they have enforce taxation rules, unless they had clear allegations of contraventions or proof of maladministration.

One of the MEPs on the new Panama Papers committee in the European Parliament said the committee would be gearing up for an inquiry into the creation of letterbox companies in Malta and how they are used by European businesses to minimise tax payments back home.
But Sven Giegold, a German MEP for the Green Party, said that “Mizzi should consider preparing for an invitation.”

Konrad Mizzi was elected Labour deputy leader for party affairs the day after he admitted to opening a New Zealand trust, but what was unknown at the time was that he had also opened an offshore Panama company. After the ICIJ released its documentation to its Maltese media partners, weeks later Mizzi resigned from his Labour deputy role.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also removed his energy portfolio, to make Mizzi a ‘minister without portfolio’, but the minister still handles energy matters – making him a de facto energy minister. Keith Schembri was retained as Muscat’s chief of staff.

The European Parliament’s Panama Committee of Inquiry met today in Brussels where MEPs heard a presentation from the investigative journalists that form of part of International Consortium for Investigative Journalism.

Members of the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism discussed their work on the files. The journalists discussing their work with MEPs included Frederik Obermaier, from the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany; and Kristof Clerix from Belgium’s Knack magazine.

The release of the so-called Panama papers in April reignited the debate on tax evasion. The 11.5 million leaked documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca provide detailed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies used by politicians, business leaders, criminals and public figures to hide their wealth from public scrutiny.

The documents were first leaked to German journalist Bastian Obermayer, from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, but because of the vast amount of files involved the newspaper asked the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) to help process the data. The first articles were published on 3 April 2016.

The Head of the PN Delegation in European Parliament David Casa MEP who is a full member of the committee and present for the exchanges stated: 

“Today we heard from the journalists themselves about the way in they conducted their work and the relevance of the information that was released.

“This was followed by a discussion of Committee members concerning how we would like to focus our work. It is clear that the Committee will address two main issues – that regarding taxation – but also and in my view more crucially the issue of corruption and money laundering.”

MEP Roberta Metsola who is also a full member of the committee said: “We saw today that the Committee would look at how to improve the protection of whistleblowers and will emerge with proposals how to facilitate transparency and fight tax evasion and corruption.

“Over the next year, the Committee will continue to meet to discuss how the EU can move forward on this issue. It is clear that this scandal will not go away and I hope that Member States and any witnesses who may be called cooperate fully with the Committee’s line of inquiry.”

The committee has a one-year mandate which expires on 8 June 2017. The mandate can be prolonged twice by three months. 

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