MPs adopt Standards report on Rosianne Cutajar property deal

Government and Opposition MPs accepted the report that found Rosianne Cutajar breached ethics by failing to declare brokerage income and a birthday donation from Yorgen Fenech

In a rare consensus among government and Opposition MPs, the standards committee has accepted the conclusions of a report that found Rosianne Cutajar breached ethics when failing to declare income from a property deal for Yorgen Fenech.

Standards Commissioner George Hyzler concluded in July that Cutajar breached ethics when she failed to declare brokerage fees she received from the deal in her parliamentary declaration. He also recommended that his findings be passed on to the Tax Commissioner for further investigation.

However, it’s the parliament’s ethics committee, chaired by Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, that has a final say on reports from the standards chief.

During the meeting, Farrugia verified whether the donation or brokerage fees in question were declared in Rosianne Cutajar’s asset declaration for 2019 and 2020.

It turns out that there was no mention of the €9,000 donation nor brokerage income in her declaration.

Once this was verified, the four MPs in the committee took their vote. Opposition MPs Therese Comodini Cachia and Karol Aquilina were first in voting to accept the report, saying they felt duty-bound to do so.

Government MP Glenn Bedingfield said there was nothing more to discuss with respect to this report, and agreed with accepting the conclusions.

Edward Zammit Lewis, also a government MP, said he was approving the report but specified that he doesn’t want to exclude Rosianne Cutajar from defending herself in light of the recommendations.

“I believe that Rosianne Cutajar paid a hard political price,” he said.

Tax investigations ongoing

Earlier in the meeting, tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty testified before the committee to review the report allegations. However, he specified that there are limits at law on what he can and cannot divulge to the committee.

Every investigation is kept secret, no details can be given. Especially when investigations are ongoing,” he prefaced to the Committee.

Gaerty was accompanied by a lawyer, who explained that there are two avenues in tax procedure, namely the administrative or the criminal.

“If it’s a criminal procedure, you can’t even speak with the client,” the lawyer specified.

Using a hypothetical situation, Gaerty explained that the responsibility to declare income falls on the person who received it.

“If you decide to pass €50,000 to another person then it’s not taxable on that other person, as it would have been given as a donation.”

He added that donation is an appropriation of income. Once someone receives their income, they can do whatever they want with it. However, the income must always be taxed.  

“If a person gives a service, and that service is for consideration, then you’re obliged to declare it. If you don’t that’s omission, tax evasion.”

Gaerty said that tax was paid on the brokerage income mentioned in the report. The question is whether the tax was collected in the manner it was supposed to.

“The other person can declare it as much as they want, but it doesn’t remove the obligation on the original person to declare that income,” he said.

He added that it often benefits people to split their income between two people due to the high tax ceiling. “It’s almost worse to have someone collect it all instead.”

Rosianne Cutajar must resign - PN

After the committee meeting, the Nationalist Party demanded that Rosianne Cutajar step down as a member of parliament. 

"The Nationalist Party expects Rosianne Cutajar to resign immediately as a Member of Parliament and in the event that she does not do so, Prime Minister Robert Abela will see to it that she is expelled from the Labor Party's Parliamentary Group," the party's statement reads.

The PN recalled that there are three ongoing investigations concerning Rosianne Cutajar. These include investigations by the Tax Compliance Unit, by the police, and by Council of Europe. 

Cutajar admitted to being questioned by police. During the ethics probe, she informed the Commissioner that she was handing him copies of messages exchanged between her and Yorgen Fenech. She said these copies were handed to her by the police under disclosure. 

She is also facing investigation from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs within the Council of Europe. However, the committee said it will wait for the outcome of the local parliamentary probe before deciding her fate.