Busuttil says Alfred Mifsud should step aside due to bribery allegations

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil says prime minister should withdraw nomination of Central Bank governor-elect Alfred Mifsud due to bribery allegations

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has insisted that Central Bank governor-elect Alfred Mifsud should step aside immediately due to bribery allegations, arguing that the prime minister’s decision to steamroll ahead and back Mifsud was tarnishing Malta’s reputation.

Speaking on Radio 101, the PN leader insisted that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat should take the “responsible and sensible decision” and withdrawn Mifsud’s nomination.

Busuttil pulled no punches in denouncing Muscat’s reaction, arguing that the prime minister was acting as if nothing happened, and that this attitude has become a token of the Labour government.

“The reaction of Joseph Muscat should have been that of a prime minister, but it wasn’t. A scandal is emerging every week; it is hard to keep up. There are serious allegations on the person touted to become the next Central Bank Governor, and yet the prime minister has apparently remained intent on steamrolling ahead as he is still backing Mifsud for the post,” Busuttil said.

Mifsud is alleged to having taken bribes from the M Demajo group for the installation of banking software when Mifsud was Mid Med Bank chairman during the 1996-1998 Labour administration.

Mifsud’s former partner, Anna Zelbst, has emerged as the whistleblower behind the allegations. She has claimed that during Mifsud’s chairmanship, Ronnie Demajo had visited their Balzan residence “at least three times, and each time he brought with him Lm 50,000 in cash.”

Mifsud has denied the allegations of kickbacks from Demajo and has filed a police report to press defamation and blackmail charges against his former companion. The finance ministry is investigating the allegations.

The Opposition leader insisted that Mifsud should have had the “decency” to step aside until the allegations made against him were cleared, arguing that Mifsud’s and Muscat’s restraint and obstinacy are harming Malta’s reputation.

“Muscat should have spoken to Central Bank governor Josef Bonnici as the bribery allegations surrounding Alfred Mifsud have inadvertently dragged the Central Bank into the mire but it is as if nothing has happened,” Busuttil said during an interview on Radio 101.

The PN leader insisted that if appointed as Central Bank governor, Mifsud, a long-time Labour support who at one time employed Joseph Muscat at Crystal Finance, would automatically become a member of the European Central Bank, and thus, it was imperative that he step aside to avoid a further embarrassment for Malta.

“Whenever I see Malta’s reputation being tarnished, it hurts. Anyone who holds Malta’s best interests at heart is also hurt. The PN is feeling the hurt twice over because it had worked to build up Malta’s reputation over the years,” he said.

“Just like Joseph Muscat did in the case of [minister] Konrad Mizzi, his reaction to these bribery allegations is unacceptable. I urge the prime minister to stop damaging the country’s reputation; his bad choices and the government’s nepotism has repeatedly harmed the country. Our message to the Prime Minister is clear – stop it,” Busuttil argued.

The PN leader held that Malta’s financial services sector was being further harmed by Education Minister Evarist Bartolo’s repeated criticism of MFSA chairman Joe Bannister. Bartolo has for years accused Bannister of failing to declare a directorship in a Cayman Islands company in the Malta Financial Services Authority's annual report.

“If the government wants to remove Bannister, it should do so. But to have a minister publicly criticise someone, harms the Cabinet and the financial services sector,” he said.

Turning his attention on the deal to privatize three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare on a 30-year concession, the PN leader said the deal was “extremely dubious and worrisome” because it had been signed when Konrad Mizzi was health minister.

There were also allegations that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff had met with the investor before the call for proposals was made, Busuttil said.

“The deal is dubious because of the involvement of Konrad Mizzi and Konrad Mizzi. [Health minister] Chris Fearne should be wary of the deal as he might end up getting inadvertently smeared with corruption. The deal is also suspicious because the contract is yet to be published,” Busuttil said.

The PN leader also explained that as a principle the management of the Gozo General Hospital, the island’s only hospital, should not have been handed over to a private company.