Update 2 | OPM accuses Busuttil of ‘inciting fear’, double standards

Office of the Prime Minister slam Simon Busuttil’s after PN Leader questions motive of four Syrian nationals arrested in Italy en route to Malta, says comments are “irresponsible” and “unworthy”

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil is “inciting fear” and contradicting himself after questioning the motive of four Syrian men who were arrested in Italy en route to Malta, the Office of the Prime Minister said today.

Earlier, PN leader Simon Busuttil said he “did not believe” the government’s claims that four Syrian men who tried to reach Malta using false documents were coming to Malta to find a job. Rather, he said, the government should be serious in the face of terror threats and breaches of security, and put the country’s mind at rest by showing the people that it is in control of Malta’s security.

However, in a reaction to Busuttil’s comments, the OPM denounced the comments as being “irresponsible” and of being unworthy of a person holding an institutional role in Malta.

“The Opposition leader is shedding doubt on the work between Europe’s security officials, who in turn, have uncovered a racket under which migrants would cross over to other EU countries by using false documents,” it said.

Increased checks and controls at the borders and the suspension of Schengen rules in Malta and Italy led to renewed to passport controls, and have resulted in the arrest of four Syrian nationals and two Malian men who were en route to Malta using false documents.

The investigations have in turn uncovered a “racket” which involved bringing individuals, mostly asylum seekers fleeing war in Syria and persecution in Somalia, to Malta by using fake passports to pass off as European citizens, allowing them to go through the Schengen zone without any checks.

But while Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was quick to reassure that the Syrians had no ‘ulterior motives’, on Saturday, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil tweeted that he finds it hard to believe that the individuals were trying to reach Malta just for work and asylum process.

Similarly, Busuttil was again sceptical and said that the Paris attacks that killed 130 people last week and the subsequent arrest of the four Syrian men had fuelled Malta’s fears due to the men’s suspected links to extremism.

“The Paris attacks must not be ignored, if anyone instils fear in our everyday life, it becomes very serious as people are worried of their safety … We must remain vigilant. The government needs to be serious in the face of terror threats and breaches of security, and it must show that it is in control of the situation,” the Opposition leader underlined.

Taking exception at Busuttil’s “irresponsible” comments, the OPM accused Busuttil of trying to harm Malta’s economy by inciting fear, and for using the tragic events to show Malta in bad light.

“Busuttil is trying to harm Malta’s economy by trying to incite fear. For anyone to use the Paris attacks is equally as disgusting, more so since the majority of the suspects involved are European citizens,” the OPM said while insisting that the government will continue to safeguard Malta’s security.

The OPM also insisted that Busuttil was guilty of double standards as he sought to sow fear of the Syrian men arrested in Italy, while at the same time insisting that the government should not retain the suspension of the Schengen rules beyond the CHOGM.

Earlier, Busuttil also questioned whether the high number of residence permits and Algerian visas issued by the Labour government had exposed the country to additional risks, arguing that the security of the country cannot be ignored.

“Muscat portrays himself as taking a tough stance against migration, but at the same time, the government has issued 14,000 residency permits while 7,000 visas were issued by the Maltese consulate in Algeria ... there is something suspicious, more so since the government does not want an independent audit to be carried out,” he said.

‘Muscat, Speaker should take immediate action against Joe Debono Grech’ - Busuttil

Taking umbrage at the alleged threats made by Labour MP Joe Debono Grech against now-independent MP Marlene Farrugia on Friday, the PN leader called on Muscat to take “immediate action” against the Labour backbencher.

The PN leader pulled no punches and chastised Debono Grech for degenerating Friday’s parliamentary session into a “disgusting, unacceptable, and intolerable” scene. On Friday, backbencher Debono Grech allegedly told Marlene Farrugia “I’ll come and beat you up”, whereas Farrugia reportedly told Debono Grech that he was "a simpleton", "corrupt" and “no one wanted him”.

Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia – who angrily rebuked the shouting match as being reminiscent of a “pig sty” and not parliament – has since been requested to investigate the issue by Opposition whip David Agius.

“Debono Grech does not deserve the title of 'Honourable' ... I challenge the Speaker to take action against Joe Debono Grech and for the prime minister to follow suit, as otherwise, Muscat would be giving Debono Grech his blessing. If Debono Grech was a member of the PN parliamentary group, I would take action and ensure that responsibility is shouldered,” Busuttil said.

Speaking on Marlene Farrugia’s resignation, the PN leader urged other “disgruntled MPs” to follow suit and to resign from the Labour parliamentary group for the sake of Malta.

“Muscat’s movement has started to crack, as it is now apparent that his movement was built on deceit. I urge other Labour MPs to come out against the government and speak out for the sake of the country,” Busuttil said.