Unrelenting Busuttil sees corruption in SOCAR, Café Premier cases

Busuttil says Prime Minister glibly uses police investigations to deviate public’s attention from his own shortcomings • Opposition leader says he is realistic about Labour holding majorities in council elections

Simon Busuttil played down a suggestion that he was resigning to the fact that he will not win any Labour-led councils in the forthcoming elections
Simon Busuttil played down a suggestion that he was resigning to the fact that he will not win any Labour-led councils in the forthcoming elections

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil is expecting Joseph Muscat to take responsibility for the damning indictment of his €4.2 million bailout of the Café Premier operators. But he was hard-pressed on whether he was ready to take his accusations of corruption to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

PBS head of news Reno Bugeja insisted with Busuttil in an interview on Dissett whether the party’s claims of a “whiff of corruption” from the Café Premier bailout should be forwarded to the PCAC.

“The NAO has already condemned the Café Premier deal. Why would I go elsewhere? What I expect now is that someone takes political responsibility,” Muscat told Bugeja over whether the PN could substantiate the accusations of corruption.

“This report clearly says that the payment should not have taken place, that there was no good governance. This is a damning report that condemns the Prime Minister – this report alone means that Muscat must take responsibility for it,” the Opposition leader replied.

Busuttil laid into Joseph Muscat’s two-year record, accusing him of not leading by example. “I believe in clean politics and this is why I took tough decisions, even inside my own party – if people are to have faith in politics, we need to set high standards.”

In talking of his own standards, Busuttil remarked that he had already suspended two former ministers for not declaring their Swiss bank accounts in their ministerial declarations. He also insisted that the Labour government should not have opened an asset registration scheme to politicians, from which former minister Ninu Zammit repatriated undeclared monies he had held in his Swiss account.

The Opposition leader however said he would await the outcome of a police investigation into claims by a whistleblower that he had been contracted by former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono’s husband to carry out private works, paid under the ministerial budget. “[I didn’t suspend her because] Giovanna denied the allegations categorically… in the case of [former minister] Manuel Mallia, his statement [on the Sheehan shooting] had been an outright lie.”

“The prime minister is trying to deviate our attention from the biggest scandal we have before us,” Busuttil said of Mizzi’s intervention in the SOCAR hedging deal.

“The oil scandal’s new name is Konrad Mizzi,” he continued, although Reno Bugeja was having none of it.

“Do you really believe that this is a greater scandal than the oil scandal? I don’t think so…” he asked.

“Reno, do you have any guarantee that no underhand payments were made, when this minister intervened personally, when the government went to Azerbaijan without any accompanying press?” Busuttil replied.

Bugeja kept up the pressure, saying the Gozitan whistleblower’s claims were not light accusations. But Busuttil insisted he had learnt of these accusations from MaltaToday’s report. “I did meet certain contractors in the past… because they had not been paid by the government.”

Busuttil was adamant however in saying that Muscat used superficial police investigations to deviate the public’s attention, naming amongst others police investigations into a solar panel contract granted by former minister George Pullicino as an example. “We’ve heard nothing yet from that investigation.”

Local council elections

Busuttil played down a suggestion that he was resigning to the fact that he will not win any Labour-led councils in the forthcoming elections. “I speak the truth, unlike Muscat,” he said of his speech to the PN’s General Council in which he told delegates that 20 of the 34 councils up for grabs are likely to retain their Labour majorities

“I am a realist. What I told delegates is to face up to the challenge and bring the PN the best possible result.”

Pouncing on the apparent dampened confidence, Bugeja asked Busuttil why the many shortcomings in the Muscat administration should not lead the electorate to ‘show him the red card’ – the PN’s battlecry during the 2014 European elections.

“I’ll bow down to the people’s decision,” he replied, taking time to criticise Muscat for spending €4.2 million to bail out a failed company to take back the Café Premier, when that money could have been spent in healthcare, roads, and schools.

“I think the people are still gauging a two-year government, but they have already started asking questions. Only this week, an NAO report revealed the scandal of our expensive fuel prices, because energy minister Konrad Mizzi personally intervened to tell Enemalta to buy fuel from SOCAR,” Busuttil said.

Some €5.5 million were lost in fuel products’ hedging due to the drop in the price of oil in the last three months of 2014, but it was Mizzi who directed Enemalta to include SOCAR in their suppliers’ list, which resulted in a six-month hedge on unleaded petrol and diesel.

“It is not true that Joseph Muscat, our prime minister, has accepted the NAO’s reports,” Busuttil said, turning back to the Café Premier bailout. “He insists he did not intervene personally, when an email published in the NAO shows him directing the head of the civil service to clear the way with the finance ministry.”

“What people will say about these two years is that Muscat’s word is worth nothing when he doesn’t deliver a power plant he promised for 2015, or that he intervened personally to pay a failed company €4.2 million to take back the Café Premier.”

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