Update 2 | Mizzi, Schembri sue for libel as PN calls on AG to freeze their assets

PN MP Jason Azzopardi insists that the Attorney General and the Police Force must investigate allegations surrounding the setting up of offshore companies by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri

Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right)
Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right)

Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri have sued PN leader Simon Busuttil and MPs Jason Azzopardi and Marthese Portelli for libel after the latter two urged the Attorney General to freeze their assets in light of the latest revelations from the Panama Papers.

It was yesterday revealed that Nexia BT, the auditors who set up offshore firms with Mossack Fonseca in Panama for the former energy minister, had also incorporated an offshore company for a Chinese engineer employed with Shanghai Power Electric, the Chinese state-owned firm which acquired a 33% stake in Enemalta.

Addressing a press conference, shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi and shadow energy minister Marthese Portelli also questioned why Cheng Chen – C&I engineer for SEP – chose Nexia BT as the intermediary.

“There are so many accountants in China, and he just happened to choose the same accountant who set up offshore companies for Mizzi and Schembri,” Azzopardi said. “This is a textbook case of suspected money laundering, and the Attorney General and police are legally obliged to investigate.

“There shouldn’t be different laws for gods and common mortals.”

Noting that SEP is owned by the Chinese government, the MP insisted that this was a scandal “of international corruption”.

“The rule of law is crucial in a democracy and, if it fails, there could be nefarious consequences in that people will start taking the law in their own hands,” Azzopardi said.

He was coy when asked by MaltaToday whether a future PN administration will seek to renationalise Enemalta, arguing that investigations must be carried out before such discussions can be held.

He also questioned why Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has as yet denied allegations of money laundering surrounding the minister and the chief of staff.

Cheng Chen’s company Torbridge Services Inc was incorporated on 29 May 2013 by Nexia BT, and appears in the Panama Papers.

SEP acquired a €320 million stake in the ailing national energy corporation in March 2014 to gain a foothold in the European renewables market. Shanghai Electric effectively took control of the Delimara power station extension, also known as the ‘BWSC plant’.

Shadow energy minister Marthese Portelli noted that the Opposition had long harboured suspicions about the SEP deal, as the government has persistently refused to publish contracts related to the agreement.  

She demanded answers over reports sourced from the Panama Papers that Mizzi had amassed €6.4 million in income prior to becoming energy minister. Mizzi has insisted that the quoted figure referred to money he had personally generated for the firm [Pcubed] he had once formed part of.

“Where is the money? Had Muscat known about it from the start, and what action will he take now that he does know? All three of them must instantly resign from politics.”

‘The only corruption at Enemalta happened under PN’ - Mizzi

Konrad Mizzi, minister within the office of the Prime Minister, said he will sue Busuttil, Azzopardi and Portelli for libel for repeating “outrageous allegations of corruption”.

“Through the investment in a corporation, that a former PN minister valued at one euro, government has rescued Enemalta, reduced its debt by half and launched an investment programme in power distribution,” he said. “Tariffs have been reduced by €80 million, its credit rating has been upgraded and the Marsa power station has been closed down.

“The only corruption relating to Enemalta is the oil scandal which occurred under the previous administration, which persisted with the use of oil. Notwithstanding clear recommendations to shift from oil to gas, the PN administration invested in a new oil fired plant.”   

‘PN has crossed the line of decency’ – Schembri

Announcing his own intentions to sue the PN spokespersons a few hours later, Keith Schembri said that claims that he had personally benefitted from the SEP deal were “false and malicious”.

“Today, the PN has crossed the line of all decency falling well short of the responsibilities expected from a serious Opposition party in a modern democracy,” he said in a statement. “Simon Busuttil is desperately attacking all investments that this government has brought for the benefit of all.”

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