Busuttil says Panama-Gasol link ‘a coincidence too far’

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil says the timing of occurrences of Konrad Mizzi's transfer of his Panama company and the share transfer of Gasol to ElectroGas consortium was 'coincidence too far'; says Toni Abela's rejection humiliated the country

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has insisted that the revelation that energy minister Konrad Mizzi transferred his Panama company to his New Zealand trust on the same day that Gasol sold its shares in Electrogas was  “coincidence too far.”

Busuttil’s comments came in the wake of a report by the Malta Independent on Sunday which said that on the same day that the energy and health minister transferred his Panama company to his New Zealand trust, Gasol plc – one of the shareholders in the ElectroGas consortium sold its 30% share over to the consortium’s other partners.

And for Busuttil, the timing of the occurrences are a “coincidence too many” and that it only fuelled suspicions of corruption, more so when public contracts involving the minister have yet to be published.

On Sunday, energy minister Konrad Mizzi insisted that the two occurrences were completely unrelated, and that there was no relation or connection between the establishment of the trust and the related structures, and the sale of Gasol shares to Electrogas shareholders.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also leapt to the defence of his minister, dubbing the report as “hogwash” – but in a statement published this afternoon the Nationalist Party insisted Muscat’s defence of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri was the only hogwash.

Addressing the PN supporters in Ghajniselem, the Opposition leader held that the prime minister’s  repeated defence of Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the OPM’s chief of staff, was a “sign that he [Muscat] is an accomplice.”

Both Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri have admitted to having a company registered in the tax haven of Panama as well as a trust fund in New Zealand.

The Opposition leader reiterated that the setting up of the companies in black-listed Panama was enough for them to be sacked, and according to Busuttil, several members of the EPP approached him and asked him how Konrad Mizzi had not yet resigned or sacked, despite declaring to setting up a company in Panama.

Insisting that the companies were not set up to remain empty, but to deposit money, the Opposition leader said people were led to suspect that there was wrongdoing and that the companies were set up to hide the source of the funds.

The PN leader also said that the police should investigate the Panama scandal, and that the Panama association warranted an investigation into the public contracts handled by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

Taking Muscat to task for repeatedly defending Schembri after it was alleged that the OPM’s chief of staff paid “backhanders and kickbacks” to the managing director of the Allied Group Adrian Hillman on purchases the Group made from the Kasco Group, the PN leader said it was incredulous that the prime minister did nothing.

“The Allied Group of Companies immediately suspended its director and set up an inquiry, while the Prime Minister did nothing, but rather opted to defend Keith Schembri. This is unacceptable in a democratic society … Keith Schembri is the prime minister behind the prime minister and is involved in all decisions taken by the government,” he said.

Refuting claims that the PN had hindered Toni Abela’s nomination for the European Court of Auditors, Simon Busuttil said the outcome of the hearing – which saw Abela being turned down by MEPs in the Budgetary Control Committee – was a humiliation for the country.

“Was it the PN which nominated Abela? Was it the PN’s fault that Abela is not experienced in public administration and he is not independent of politics? In Brussels he told MEPs that he was not involved in politics, but in Malta, the Labourt Party said he was still its deputy leader,” Busuttil said.

Busuttil also explained that just like Labour MEP Alfred Sant had declared, the Nationalist MEPs had actually helped Toni Abela prepare to get the Court of Auditors role.

Turning his attention on the “lies” surrounding PN executive leader Ann Fenech, and deputy leaders Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco, the PN leader accused the Labour Party of trying to deviate the public’s attention from its scandals by lying and intimidating the Nationalist Party.

“No amount of intimidation will frighten the PN … The PN is the only party which was promising honest politics and it is the only party which can cleaning up politics from corruption,” he continued.