Muscat says inquiry absolves him of accusations over Fenech gifts of watch and Petrus wine

Muscat says PCAC decision absolves him of trading in influence complaint, but Repubblika activist Robert Aquilina says former Labour leader is toasting investigation that has little resources

Joseph Muscat
Joseph Muscat

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat has said an investigation by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption has absolved him of the accusation of trading in influence over gifts made to him by Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech.

The outcome of the case, as reported by It-Torċa, follows up on a complaint by independent candidate Arnold Cassola into Fenech’s close relationship with top officials, including Muscat, in influencing a high-rise planning policy that benefit the Tumas Quad Towers at Mrieħel.

Cassola’s complaint cited reports that Fenech had gifted Muscat expensive watches and bottles of Petrus wine, and asked the commission to see whether those gifts and relationships influenced policy decisions.

Muscat said on Facebook that “had the Commission’s decision been otherwise, it would have provoked a louder reaction, much as is being fomented against me in a magisterial inquiry – in which I have no faith.”

“Nobody can say the commission’s members wanted to return a favour. But this story has been buried since it does not fit the blinding narrative of hatred.”

In the decision by the commission, chaired by judge emeritus Lawrence Quintano, together with judge emeritus Philip Magri and former police commissioner John Rizzo, the commission said it could not find any element for the crime of trading in influence against Muscat.

“From what the Commission has heard, it does not result that either the watch or the wine gifts were intended for some economic advantage... indeed it seems the consortium lost money in the changes of policy at Mrieħel,” the commission said.

Robert Aquilina, president of the anti-corruption NGO Repubblika, said in a reaction to Muscat’s statement, that the PCAC was ill-equipped to investigate corrupt acts.

“Muscat is expressing satisfaction with the decision of an institution that lacks the necessary tools, or the time necessary to carry out judiciary-level investigations, despite the integrity and competence of the members appointed to this Commission. Even the Commission’s own disclaimer is that it is not a court,” Aqulina said.

“At the same time, Muscat continues to blatantly, and most dangerously, attack the independent institutions that have the tools and time to arrive at the whole truth. He does so because he has a lot to hide, and because is he is afriad, knowing as he does of his guilt.”

The anti-corruption inquiry absolved former junior minister Michael Farrugia over a meeting with Fenech, almost four years after it was asked to investigate the matter. The Permanent Commission Against Corruption said it was “satisfied” that the two had discussed Portomaso during a 2014 meeting, and not plans to allow high-rise developments in Mrieħel.

The commission ruled that Farrugia had not gained anything from his sudden order to include Mrieħel in a government policy on high-rise buildings on March 5, 2014 - the same day he met Fenech, at the time a Tumas Group executive director, at the Office of the Prime Minister.

Farrugia, who was politically responsible for planning at the time, was therefore absolved by the commission.

The commission also said that policy changes for high-rise at Mrieħel resulted in the Tumas Group’s project losing €12 million in value because of a reduction in gross developable area.