[WATCH] George Hyzler clears first hurdle in approval process for European Court of Auditors post

Malta’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors, George Hyzler, has cleared the first stage of his approval process after a grilling at the hands of MEPs

George Hyzler is Malta's nominee for the European Court of Auditors
George Hyzler is Malta's nominee for the European Court of Auditors

Updated at 4:44pm with more details from the grilling

Malta’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors, George Hyzler, has been approved by MEPs in the budgetary committee after a grilling in Brussels on Thursday.

With 25 votes in favour, two against and one abstention, Hyzler cleared the first important hurdle in a process that will require him to also be approved by the plenary.

Hyzler will replace Leo Brincat, Malta’s appointment to the European Court of Auditors, when his five-year term ends in September. Hyzler was nominated by the Maltese government, earlier this year.

Hyzler currently occupies the post of Standards Commissioner, a new role that came into being in 2018. His ethics investigations over the past few years have led to the resignation of former minister Justyne Caruana and former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar.

If Hyzler secures the post, which looks like a mere formality now that he cleared the grilling in the budgetary committee, he will have to step down from Standards Commissioner a year before his term ends.

In his introductory speech, Hyzler told MEPs that as a member of the European Court of Auditors he will act “professionally, with independence and with integrity”.

“I would also serve with absolute loyalty to the European Union goals and the values and mission of the Court to improve citizens’ trust in our institutions, to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable European Union, and to uphold the values that the EU stands for,” Hyzler said.

Past work, financial disclosure and nomination process

During the grilling, Hyzler defended his past work as a lawyer representing several foreign companies registered in Malta, when queried about this by Joachim Kuhs, an MEP from the Identity and Democracy group.

Kuhs asked about Hyzler’s involvement in one company – Tarantula Holding – which listed as one of its shareholders American private banker Bradley Birkenfeld, who acted as a whistleblower for the US government.

“None, not one of the companies, I worked for as a lawyer, had any link to corruption or any of the things you've mentioned Mr Kuhs… I was acting as the director of the company of an individual who was not convicted of fraud, but was arguably the most important whistleblower at the moment,” Hyzler replied, adding that Birkenfeld was paid $104 million by the American IRS for disclosing the names of those holding accounts in UBS in Switzerland.

“Now, I don't know what your view of whistleblowers is, but I think without them we'd never understand or know who is involved in fraud, who is breaking the law… I have no issue defending my former clients as I have done so most of my life but putting this information together as a reflection on my past is at best, maybe, not very well researched and I'm telling you this because in the case of the individual you've mentioned the reason why he is so famous is because he's a whistleblower not because he's corrupt,” Hyzler responded.

Asked about disclosure of his financial interests, Hyzler said he has absolutely no reservation on making a full disclosure. He noted that in his current position as Standards Commissioner, he is bound not to have any sort of activity other than the job itself.

“I even left my law firm, the law firm that I had actually set up myself, and sold my shares. So I have absolutely no commitments whatsoever that could in any way create any conflict,” he said.

He was also asked about his own nomination process in Malta, to which Hyzler replied  that the candidacy procedure has always been nomination by the government.

“What is different in my case is that for the first time, I am not coming from parliament so my predecessors have always been members of parliament who have moved on to this position and have served admirably, very well,” Hyzler said, adding he had left politics almost 20 years ago.

“What I can say is there is another first… I do not come from the, in terms of background, from the political side of the party in government… so for the first time the party in government is nominating somebody who does not come from within its ranks,” he said.

Hyzler added his nomination was also welcomed and supported across the political divide.

Meanwhile, Hyzler was applauded for his performance by the government and Opposition leader Bernard Grech. PN MEP David Casa congratulated Hyzler "for making Malta proud".

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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