[WATCH] Abela won’t remove Cutajar from backbench despite tax evasion investigation

Prime Minister will wait for ethics committee process and tax commissioner’s investigation but does not commit to outcome on Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar

Prime Minister Robert Abela with Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar at Auberge de Castille
Prime Minister Robert Abela with Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar at Auberge de Castille

Prime Minister Robert Abela has brushed aside questions as to whether he will remove Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar from his backbench, after the former equality parliamentary secretary became the subject of an investigation by the Commissioner for Revenue on tax evasion.

Cutajar played a role in in brokering a property deal in Mdina for Yorgen Fenech, the Tumas magnate currently accused of masterminding the Caruana Galizia assassination. After the deal was exposed by MaltaToday and The Times in December 2020, the Tax Compliance Unit started an audit and an investigation soon after the multi-million property deal. The investigation includes Cutajar, as well as Charles Farrugia ‘it-Tikka’, her former political aide, who also acted as a broker for the property deal, from which he was paid commission in cash.

On Monday, Cutajar’s resignation as parliamentary secretary for reforms became permanent. She had resigned in February after the start of an ethics investigation on the back of a report by MaltaToday detailing her role in the property sale.

In a report of over 200 pages, one of the longest ever penned by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler found overwhelming evidence of a breach of ethics by Cutajar.

READ MORE: Prime Minister shuts the door on Rosianne Cutajar after Hyzler report

In a press conference today, Abela said he would not pass judgement on an episode in which Cutajar was contradicting claims by the property seller, Joe Camilleri, whose affidavit alleged that the MP was to be paid a brokerage fee. The affidavit was penned by Cutajar’s own colleague, the Labour MP Ian Castaldi Paris.

“The ethics report will be discussed by a parliamentary committee, with questions put to Commissioner George Hyzler. That process must be allowed to take place, in the same way as it has always been held. I understand there are disagreements on the report, but the institutions must be respected. The report indeed makes this contrast between Cutajar and Camilleri clear.”

Abela was unable to answer question whether he would allow Cutajar to run in a forthcoming general election should it be determined that she evaded tax. “Using that standard, then the same should count for Bernard Grech, the Opposition leader,” he said, referring to Grech’s tax evasion problems in the run-up to his party leadership election.

“If the tax commissioner finds a shortcoming, then Cutajar should be treated equally as any other citizen, with no favourable treatment,” Abela said.

Abela also told MaltaToday he would only stand by his decision not to reverse Cutajar’s ousting from the Cabinet after she resigned following the start of the ethics investigation. “If we are to talk about any tax evasion investigation, the only investigation I know of was the one dealing with the Opposition leader Bernard Grech’s tax returns,” Abela said.