Oil scandal used for political mudslinging, says Opposition leader

Opposition leader says oil scandal whistleblower should have revealed case to police before

Busuttil: 'Muscat used oil scandal for political mudslinging'

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has thrown his weight behind claims by former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi in the public accountability committee, that a whistleblower who brought forward the first evidence on bribes paid by Trafigura to a government official, had been “politically motivated”.

Fielding questions from the press in Balzan where he met constituents, Busuttil said he had “no doubt that Joseph Muscat used this case to throw mud at others for political reasons.”

MaltaToday broke the story of a bribe paid by oil giant Trafigura to former MOBC chief Frank Sammut in 2003 for the procurement of oil to Enemalta in January 2013, setting in motion a presidential pardon for oil trader George Farrugia, who told the police he also paid bribes to Enemalta chairman Tancred Tabone.

Seven arraignments took place since then, all related to bribery and corruption inside Enemalta.

“I have no doubt that Muscat used this case to throw mud at others for political reasons,” Busuttil said when asked for his comments on Gonzi’s statement to the PAC.

“This case goes back 10 years and was revealed in the general election campaign. Why did those who had this information not go to the police straight away? As soon as this case went to the police, seven people were arraigned. Two years since Labour was elected and nobody has been arraigned. This shows how Muscat used this case to win the election,” Busuttil said.

MaltaToday’s revelation of oil bribes was backed up by a cache of incriminating emails that had been deposited in court when oil trader George Farrugia was sued by his brothers, of the John’s Group family business, for misappropriation of profits. The €7 million claim was settled in a €1 million out-of-court settlement. At the time, Emanuel Mallia - later to become a Labour minister - was the lawyer for the John’s Group.

But the emails were also forwarded to Lawrence Gonzi some time in 2008 by a Security Service officer detailed with him, who brought him the cache at the behest of the Farrugia plaintiffs. Gonzi instructed that the emails be handed over to the head of the Security Service, but the case was eventually forwarded to the Tax Compliance Unit for a tax audit. No criminal investigation ever took place.

“Even worse, the Farrugia brothers have not yet been arraigned when they should have had charged pressed against them as stated by inspector Angelo Gafà. This is the scandal.

“We know the lawyer of the Farrugia brothers had been former minister Emanuel Mallia. What I want to know was why they were not arraigned when he was minister.”

"The work done by this local council is a testament to what the Nationalist Party can achieve in the country" - Simon Busuttil

During a walkabout of Balzan, with Mayor Dr. John Zammit Montebello,  Busuttil thanked the outgoing local council for its work in the locality.

“This local council is proof that, we, as a party, can make a difference in our society,” Busuttil said.

Busuttil praised many of the finished and unfinished projects planned by the local council, many of which were partly funded by the European Regional Dvelopment fund (ERDF), and also went on to introduce the PN candidates for the upcoming local council elections.

Among this Local Council’s achievements, Busuttil listed the impressive re-building and re-paving of Guze Bonnici Street, a project which cost around €100,000, and which was partly funded by the EU.

Zammit Montebello said that some of the sites and monuments in Balzan had been determined as historic places and placed on a Heritage trail. According to Zammit Montebello, the sites and monuments in question would also benefit from frequent restoration, which is normally a lengthy process.

“Among the listed monuments is a statue of Santa Maria, located a few metres away from the local parish. The statue is over 180 years old, and it had suffered extensive damage from the elements and from a previous botched restoration project in the 70s. The Local Council has now signed a contract with Heritage Malta, to ensure that restoration takes place after every two-year period,” Zammit Montebello said.

Zammit Montebello also explained a new handy-man service introduced by his council.

“This new service allows people from the locality to make complaints about certain menial tasks and problems around the locality. The appointed persons then go ahead and make the repairs as soon as possible.”

Zammit Montebello stressed that thanks to this initiative, there was a drop in the number of complaints made and an improvement in the response time for these issues, with a maximum of 72 hours in 2014. Zammit Montebello also added that the only six pending requests were left over from 2014.

“Some of the most common complaints include damages and pot-holes in pavements and roads, broken road signs and other minor repairs needed, however they all make a difference to the locality and the way it is viewed.”

Zammit Montebello also discussed future plans which were already underway to change all the lighting of the locality to more environmentally friendly LED lighting.

Government reacts

In a press statement, the government accused Busuttil of attacking the messenger, rather than those behind the bribery itself. 

The government also criticized Busuttil’s claims that the case was a ‘smokescreen’ that allowed the government to attack the Opposition. “It is worth remembering that this case took place under a Nationalist government, one that Busuttil was part of,” the statement said.

“Busuttil cannot keep evading responsibility and cannot keep slinging mud when backed into a corner,” the statement reads. “It only serves to make his hypocrisy more evident.”

The statement called on Busuttil to weigh in on whether it was right that George Farrugia’s presidential pardon was issued while only half the Cabinet was present.

“Busuttil cannot remain on the sidelines, defending the biggest political scandal in our history.”

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