[WATCH] Prime Minister defends Carmelo Abela: Criminals want to buy their pardon

Prime Minister says he will not base his decision on the future of Minister Carmelo Abela on a 'coordinated attack by the PN and criminals' • Will only act if proof emerges of any link between minister and HSBC heist

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Carmelo Abela will stay on as minister, despite one of the Degiorgio brothers linking him to the 2010 HSBC heist, Robert Abela said as he accused the Nationalist Party of being in cahoots with criminals.

The Prime Minister said he will not base his judgement on a "coordinated attack by the PN and criminals" but insisted if proof emerged of wrongdoing he will not hesitate to take the necessary decisions.

"A minister’s resignation is not requested because there is a coordinated strategy between the PN and criminals. Criminals are trying to buy their freedom, and the PN has nothing to offer to this country and so has resorted to conspiring with criminals," he said.

The Prime Minister said that if evidence emerges of a link between the minister and the heist, he will not refrain from taking the necessary decisions. "My reputation speaks for itself," he said when asked whether Carmelo Abela should resign pending the police investigation.

"The time of criminals like Zeppi l-Hafi dictating the composition of Cabinet or the terms of their presidential pardon are over... This is a government which has stood up to organised crime," he added.

Abela refused to compare the situation his minister was in now with the case of Rosianne Cutajar, who had to resign from parliamentary secretary pending the conclusion of an ethics probe by the Standards Commissioner.

"Carmelo Abela’s investigation stems from a coordinated attack by criminals and the PN," the Prime Minister replied.

He also hinted at more "proof" which is yet to emerge on this "coordinated attack".

On Tuesday, police called in Carmelo Abela for further questioning over the details given by the Degiorgios. The minister refused to say whether the police questioned him under caution.

The Degiorgios, who are charged with carrying out the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, have requested a presidential pardon in exchange for information on a former minister linked to the Caruana Galizia assassination and the HSBC heist of 2010; and a sitting minister who was an accomplice in the same bank heist.

They were refused a pardon by the Cabinet last month in a meeting which Carmelo Abela recused himself. The Degiorgios have filed a constitutional case challenging the refusal.

Meanwhile, Carmelo Abela has continued to deny any connection whatsoever with the HSBC heist and even sued Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi for libel after the latter linked Abela to the claims made by the Degiorgios.

On Thursday, PN leader Bernard Grech said the Prime Minister had to take immediate action to suspend his minister until the police investigation is over.