[WATCH] Standing ovations for Mizzi, ‘I am serene and happy’ says minister embroiled in Panama scandal

Mizzi tells Joseph Muscat: “I feel that the Prime Minister has to take a decision, and can consider any such decision as he feels fit.”

Konrad Mizzi said it should be the Prime Minister to decide his fate
Konrad Mizzi said it should be the Prime Minister to decide his fate
Konrad Mizzi (second from left) is under pressure over revelations on his offshore Panama company
Konrad Mizzi (second from left) is under pressure over revelations on his offshore Panama company
Labour's executive committee. Photo: Raphael Farrugia
Labour's executive committee. Photo: Raphael Farrugia
Konrad Mizzi says any Prime Minister can take any decisions he sees fit

Standing ovations, rapturous applause, and nary a critical comment on Labour’s crisis afflicting it since the revelations of the Panama Papers.

Energy minister Konrad Mizzi addressed his party’s AGM for the first time as deputy leader for party affairs, and also the first since the revelations from the Panama Papers confirmed his offshore interests in the Caribbean tax haven.

He was adamant to address the “elephant in the room”, Mizzi told delegates, giving little by way of explanation, but an honest account of the way he felt about the problematic situation.

“I am serene and happy,” Mizzi told Labour delegates as refuted suggestions that he had committed anything wrong by opening an offshore company in Panama.

“Part of me tells me I have done nothing wrong – I am looking out for my family, in a legal and declared way. But out there, I am saying anger. We cannot ignore it and we have to address it.

“I thought the offshore trust in New Zealand and company in Panama was the right thing to do, to manage my UK property. But I never had any ulterior reasons. I showed the prime minister what I had in my draft declaration, I had not bank accounts or money [held in this company].”

Mizzi’s speech was short and said little about any of his future plans, or whether he would step down under the pressure of the Panama revelations. “Simon Busuttil can question my decisions, but not alleged wrongdoing on my part or corruption. I don’t accept that.”

Perhaps, the clue that suggested he would give Joseph Muscat a free hand in determining his fate was when he addressed the Labour Party leader, and instead of resigning himself, kicked the ball in his court. “I feel that the Prime Minister has to take a decision, and can consider any such decision as he feels fit.”

Labour delegates greet Konrad Mizzi at AGM

Labour AGM

The Labour Party convened its annual general meeting, as it struggles to come to terms with the revelations from the international ‘Panama Papers’ leak of Mossack Fonseca files, which showed energy minister Konrad Mizzi’s offshore holdings in a Panama firm.

Labour delegates greeted Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Labour deputy leader for party affairs Konrad Mizzi with an expected standing ovation.

Mizzi was greeted with a second rapturous applause from delegates in a formal welcome as the recently elected deputy leader for party affairs by the head of the PL's councillors' section. Delegates cried "Konrad, Konrad" as the speaker listed his achievements since his appointment as energy and health minister.

But Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has been under pressure as to the fate of Mizzi and his chief of staff Keith Schembri, who opened an offshore Panama company and offshore trust in New Zealand at the same time as Mizzi.

The Opposition has responded with vehement indignation, calling for the second protest in the last two months to call for Mizzi’s and Schembri’s resignation. Ahead of Thursday’s AGM, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil announced a no motion confidence against the government, to which the Labour administration responded that it will request an urgent debate on the motion.

Labour also presented its annual audited finances, which recorded the receipt of €1.4 million in donations and a consolidated fund of €3.2 million. The PL’s auditors are RSM Malta.

Speakers set much store by Labour’s achievements in its three years since coming to power in 2013, crediting Muscat as an agent of change who ushered in a host of civil liberties, and criticising Simon Busuttil as a populist who sought “cheap plaudits” as PL executive secretary Lydia Abela said.

Despite the effects of the Panama Papers, speakers and delegates exhorted each other in speeches to retain a “positive outlook”, while women’s section leader Claudette Abela Baldacchino called for greater internal debate on more issues affecting families and women.

Speeches by the likes of MP Anthony Agius Decelis, lauding the core principle of equality and equal opportunity at the heart of the party’s socialist creed, were delivered with convincing tone. But they rang hollow in a party whose deputy leader made use of the elite’s favourite way of absconding on tax: offshore companies.

Labour MP Deborah Schembri said Labour’s theme ‘A changed Malta’ reflected the “sense of serenity” and a “normality” that the electorate had come to expect under Labour. Justice minister Owen Bonnici took the podium and delivered an invigorated speech, saying Labour had ditched the “dichotomy” of class existing under former PN administrations.

Toni Abela addresses conference

Video is unavailable at this time.

Labour’s former deputy leader for party affairs, Toni Abela – recently having been refused a seat on the European Court of Auditors by MEPs – delivered an upbeat speech to delegates. “You have a Labour administration that has put money in people’s hands, and a PN in Opposition that wants people to loan them that money… and as for security? Well, as the PN secretary-general said, ‘see you in 10 years’ time,” Abela said to delegates’ laughter.

Abela also hit out at the PN’s show of force outside the law courts during the arraignment of MP Jason Azzopardi on criminal defamation. “That was intimidation on a sitting magistrate presiding over a case,” Abela said. “Pressure is made on the authorities… it’s a party that while in government, it systematically attacked public figures like the Ombudsman or magistrates who had criticized their operation.”

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