[WATCH] Tumas freebie: ‘When we expect high standards, we must practice what we preach’, Grech says

PN leader Bernard Grech says gifts from big business to MPs ‘can be a hindrance’ to their discharge of duties

PN leader Bernard Grech
PN leader Bernard Grech

Opposition leader Bernard Grech has asked his MPs to verify and state what, if any, gifts and freebies they have received while serving the party after Jason Azzopardi suspended himself over a freebie from the Tumas Group.

Azzopardi suspended himself from the PN’s shadow cabinet and parliamentary group to submit himself to the judgement of his own party’s ethics commission on a Tumas-financed hotel stay in Tel Aviv.

Grech said politicians could not be “more Catholic than the Pope”: “We cannot be naive about the fact that people often invite MPs to dinners to discuss issues, and then pay for the dinner themselves.”

But Grech said MPs still had to practice what they preach when demanding high standards.

“When we expect high standards, we must then practice what we preach. And if there are freebies of this type, they can be a hindrance, and as in this case merit an investigation by the (PN’s) ethics commission,” Grech said.

The PN leader described Azzopardi as an MP of “great qualities who does a lot of good for the country”.

“I understand Labour’s sustained attack on Azzopardi, for whom he represents quite an adversary. He will not be compromised in his fight against corruption.”

Azzopardi was revealed to have requested a free, all-expenses-paid stay at the Hilton in Tel Aviv from the Tumas Group back in July 2017 after contacting Tumas magnate Ray Fenech requesting help in finding a hotel in Israel while attending a wedding. 

The stay was before Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech had been revealed as the owner of 17 Black in November 2018, a secret Dubai company that acted as ‘target client’ for the secret Panama companies of Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat’s former chief of staff. Fenech was accused of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in December 2019. Azzopardi is the lawyer of the Caruana Galizia family. 

Azzopardi has now requested an investigation by the PN’s own ethics and discipline committee, PN leader Bernard Grech said in an announcement.

Azzopardi had previously denied on Xtra on TVM whether he had accepted any gift from the Tumas Group, three days before the Tel Aviv hotel gift was revealed on Illum last Sunday. He has argued that prior to the 17 Black revelation, Yorgen Fenech was “an ordinary citizen”; thereafter, Fenech became inextricably linked to the Panama Papers.

The news attracted consternation from certain PN elected officials and activists. Azzopardi has long been critical of those who have been close to Yorgen Fenech, mainly Labour ministers and other government officials who were courted by the Tumas magnate specifically after the 17 Black revelation. 

“Everywhere you look there is dirt, hidden gifts and favours. Another great news item for Moneyval,” PN local councillor Pierre Paul Portelli wrote on Facebook.  “I now expect the Nationalist Party to convene the parliamentary group, the administrative and the executive in order to discuss the disciplinary steps against ‘the honourable’ Azzopardi. Or will they protect whoever they want and break down only those who agree with them?” 

Azzopardi has declared that Ray Fenech, who is Yorgen Fenech’s uncle, found him a hotel “and it was only while I was checking out that the receptionist told me that it had been taken care of. It was a surprise because when I checked in she took my credit card details, as is practice,” he said.  

“I called him or sent him a message saying that I wasn't expecting this but that as soon as I arrive in Malta I was going to thank him. I remember that as I arrived I bought him a gift from a silver shop and took it to the reception of his office in Portomaso (I never stepped beyond the reception) and left it there with a thank you note so that I would not have any obligations.”  

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