Updated | Zammit Lewis insists Fenech Hilton vacation was in 2014

Former PM and minister spent holiday at Fenechs’ French Hilton but cannot confirm whether they paid for stay themselves • Zammit Lewis insist it was 2014

Former PM Joseph Muscat with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis
Former PM Joseph Muscat with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis holidayed at the Tumas Group’s Hilton hotel at Évian-Les-Bains in northern France, the two have confirmed.

The former Labour leader and justice minister confirmed with Lovin Malta they went on holiday to the hotel with their respective families at the upmarket town on Lake Geneva, but denied holidaying either in Easter 2017 or with Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, the alleged mastermind of the Caruana Galizia assassination.

In a statement released after the publication of the story, Zammit Lewis has denied any such vacation taking place in 2017.

“There was no vacation to France in 2017; the vacation in France happened six years ago in 2014. In the Easter of 2017, I went to Sicily with my family wherein we stayed at Borgo Alveria Agriturismo. This point in itself shows the miscontrued facts and the very idea that the report has been drafted in bad faith,” Zammit Lewis said.

The minister said his and the Muscat family travelled on scheduled commercial flights to and from Malta. He said the flights for my family were paid in full by himself. “At no point did I ask for any favours, freebies or free accomodation of any kind.”

Zammit Lewis also said that at the time Muscat had been called in haste to a European Leaders meeting in Brussels. “I was asked to attend in my capacity as Minister who served in cabinet, which is standard practice for Heads of Government. I have already sent these points to Lovin Malta yesterday evening. Notwithstanding there was a blatant disregard after choosing to publish elements of what was stated, while still twisting the facts.”

Neither Zammit Lewis nor Muscat however could not confirm whether they had paid for the stay themselves.

Muscat says they flew aboard a Eurojet private jet to Brussels, the company owned by Tumas Group, as had previous prime ministers Eddie Fenech and Lawrence Gonzi done in their official travel to Brussels. Expenses were paid by the EU.

“Unlike others, whose cases have been revealed in the past days, I did not phone anyone from the Fenech family to ask for any favours nor did I ask for suggestions about which hotel to stay in and never gave any gifts to the Fenech family in compensation for any freebies,” Zammit Lewis told Lovinmalta, referring to a freebie solicited by the Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi from Tumas magnate Ray Fenech, uncle to Yorgen, before going for a three-day stay to Tel Aviv in Israel.

Muscat reacts on Facebook

Muscat reacted on Facebook after the publication of the story on Thursday at 10:15am, saying he received the same questions previously from another news outlet, later from Lovinmalta. “It seems like someone who loves whispering in the ears of the press wants the attention taken away from them,” Muscat said.

But the former Labour leader has accused the report of being misleading and of using its source as cover. “Instead of checking the facts, they have unprofessionally rested on the claims of a ‘source’ who was unable to use others.”

Muscat rested on Edward Zammit Lewis’s insistence that the French vacation was in 2014, and not in 2017, which the story connects with the period in which the assassination of Caruana Galizia would have been plotted. “Indeed they push the line that this is ‘an important date’,” Muscat said.

Muscat did not say in his Facebook status whether the Hilton stay was paid or not.

He also said that before the government’s Vistajet deal for private air transport, the Labour government of 2013 and before that all Nationalist prime ministers, employed the Tumas Group’s Eurojet company for private air transport.

“They are once again inventing alleged chat content, which I have denied, on ‘women’s snaps’ which I have not been shown by police and which I certainly did not send… I do hop the agenda behind this story is revealed.”

Repubblika statement

The civil society NGO Repubblika doubled down on claims that the Hilton stay was paid for by Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, who at the time had an interest in the recently-awarded Electrogas gas plant contract.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a culture for these kinds of gifts to be a regular and acceptable aspect in the way a country is to be run. For us this is unacceptable. What we are most concerned about is the attitude of politicians, particularly people who are in government, being in a position to make corrupt decisions that favour those who gratify them, to defend this culture or try to justify it.”

Repubblika said the Hilton stay was a sign that Muscat’s friendship with Fenech had allowed the allegedly corrupt Electrogas contract and that, going by evidence in court, the Caruana Galizia assassination could have been motivated by a bid to cover up this corruption.

Repubblika added that an incident in which Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi solicited a favour from the Tumas Group for a hotel stay in Tel Aviv was an example of “blackmail which Azzopardi failed to avoid.”

“It is a relief Azzopardi did not cave in to any intimidation. But we are concerned that Fenech’s cash was used to evade justice when we see the silence of so many politicians on Electrogas and the Caruana Galizia assassination.”