[WATCH] Nationalist MP deflects question over Gaffarena association

Opposition to wait for outcome of NAO inquiry into Gaffarena expropriation • PN reiterates call for judges to submit declaration of assets

L-R: David Agius, Jason Azzopardi, Joe Cassar, Clyde Puli. Photo and Video by Ray Attard
L-R: David Agius, Jason Azzopardi, Joe Cassar, Clyde Puli. Photo and Video by Ray Attard

Video is unavailable at this time.

Former health minister Joe Cassar has insisted that donations received by property entrepreneur Marco Gaffarena were against a receipt issued by the Nationalist Party.

His answer came in reply to questions over MPs’ association with Gaffarena, after MaltaToday broke news on Sunday that an IAID inquiry had found land values for the expropriation of Gaffarena’s land by the Government Property Department had been “illegal”.

“The question you should be asking is not what I received from Gaffarena but what he received in return and it is clear that he received a lot from this government,” the PN MP said, deflecting a straight question on whether he accepted any donations from Gaffarena.

Cassar would not elaborate further, saying that he had a libel case and he would be declaring under oath how he knew Gaffarena. Pressed to say what sort of donations he received, Cassar said, “this is not the appropriate forum”.

He added that any other questions should be sent by email.

Cassar was replying to questions by journalists following a press conference by MPs Jason Azzopardi, David Agius and Clyde Puli on the budgetary vote for the justice ministry.

On his part, Azzopardi urged for “prudence” on commenting on the IAID findings, since the National Audit Office is also investigating the Gaffarena expropriation deal.

Asked what political responsibility the PN was expecting, Azzopardi said the Opposition always insisted that something “stank” with the deal that saw Gaffarena take €1.65 million in a cash-and-lands deal for his 50% ownership an Old Mint Street palazzo that houses governments offices. “Someone should answer for it… Now that the NAO is investigating the IAID report, we prefer waiting for the outcome,” he said.

Azzopardi added that he, former finance minister Tonio Fenech and former Lands Commissioner Albert Mamo had been called in for an interview by the IAID.

“Fenech and I were asked about two cases which had nothing to do with this case,” he said, confirming that the two cases were pre-2013.

He added that despite asking to give his statement under oath, his request was not acceded to.

Azzopardi and Agius reiterated that they never met Gaffarena.

On his part, Puli said he knew Gaffarena but he never received any gifts or donations from him.

Budget vote aftermath

The Opposition has rebutted claims by justice minister Owen Bonnici that the PN’s proposal to have judges submit a declaration of assets, was proposed by the reform commission led by judge emeritus Giovanni Bonello.

Despite the rebuttal, it transpires that this was indeed a proposal by the Bonello commission, listed in the second report the commission issued. Measure 273 suggests a register of assets of members of the judiciary, to be kept by the Auditor General.

Shadow minister Jason Azzopardi said that the "PN’s proposal" was meant at strengthening transparency in the judiciary.

The proposal also includes carrying due diligence on judges and magistrates nominated by the executive prior to their appointment.

“It is indeed true that this Budget has left little for the public… you can that salaries and bonuses in the justice ministry are to increase by €800,000 in 2016, compared to just €1,000 in compensation for victims of crime. It confirms Bonnici’s poor priorities,” Azzopardi said.

Citizens’ rights spokesperson Clyde Puli broached the issue of public broadcasting, accusing PBS of having its agenda dictated directly by the Office of the Prime Minister. “Its website resembles that of The Sun rather than a national broadcaster. It is being manipulated by the personal agenda of who runs the site,” Puli said of online editor Owen Galea, who previously was employed with the GWU media.

He also asked Bonnici to confirm whether PBS was running €14 million in debt.