Updated | Government, Opposition trade barbs over security meeting

Government lashes out at Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, accused of having referred to sensitive information for political gain • PN accuses Minister of twisting facts

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

The Office of the Prime Minister has accused Opposition leader Simon Busuttil of making reference to sensitive information received during a meeting of the Security Committee.

“It is extremely grave that the leader of the Opposition, in comments given to a local newspaper, refers to sensitive information given during a meeting of the security committee,” the OPM said in a statement.

It was referring to a front page article in The Times today, quoting Busuttil as stating that the Home Affairs Minister was “lying blatantly” over the police probe on the residence permits racket.

The Opposition has insisted that the visa scandal emerged only after three Libyan nationals spoke of how auditor Joe Sammut had falsified documents to help them obtain their residence permits. The government however maintains that Identity Malta always passed on information to the police when suspicions arose. It also insists that the racket identified by the police at Identity Malta has been ongoing since 2011.

“Minister Carmelo Abela is lying when he says that the investigation was started by the agency itself,” Busuttil told The Times. “I can vouch for that because I have the same source of information as the minister himself and I will not allow him [Minister Abela] to lie blatantly to the public like this.

“Joe Vella Bonnici had no idea what was happening under his very nose and he should be held responsible and kicked out. As should the minister himself.”

The PN wants the government to fire Vella Bonnici.

Lambasting Busuttil for his comments, the OPM said it was the first time in history that a security committee member “indicates that he is making public reference to information given, considered to be absolutely sensitive”.

“The government has repeatedly refrained from referring to that information, even in instances when that information would have proven that the Leader of the Opposition was lying. Now, Busuttil is using sensitive information – given to him because of his constitutional role – to try and build a case for his partisan goals,” the OPM said.

It added that the government would follow the previous administrations’ protocol not to refer to any sort of information given in the security committee, unless the same information is not made public as a result of the normal process.

According to the OPM, Busuttil was “consciously or not” mixing a different investigation with the aim of turning the matter into political football.

It also said that statements made by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela were consistent.

"Faced by Busuttil's irresponsible acts, the government has two options: either expose Busuttil but risk revealing information that would undermine the investigations or allow the investigations to go on without any interference.

“The government chooses to be responsible and will not prejudice the investigation by referring to sensitive information that would expose Busuttil and his misleading ways.”

PN reacts

In a reaction, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that he was aware of his constitutional role as a member of the security committee and it was with “responsibility” that he will stop the government from lying blatantly to the public.

In a statement, the PN said it was the first time in history that a government lied to the people and used the security committee as an excuse.

“The Leader of the Opposition will never accept that Minister Carmelo Abela twists the facts. This is what the Minister has done, despite being present for the same meeting. It is a lie to state that investigations started on the initiative of Identity Malta. The truth is that PL candidate Joe Vella Bonnici knew nothing of the corruption and irregularities taking place under his nose. For this reason alone, Vella Bonnici should be sacked.”

The PN reiterated that Abela and the Prime Minister, if they were truly serious about their work, should order an independent inquiry. “The Prime Minister’s actions show that he has something to hide.”

It added that the corruption and mess at Identity Malta are a threat to national security.