Updated | Busuttil hails EPP decision to oppose Brincat nomination: 'Vote is about Panama Papers'

European People's Party says Panama Papers and sale-of-citizenship has done 'untold damge' to Malta's reputation and will not 'in their wildest dreams' accept Leo Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors  • Labour Party says it is clear how certain people were under huge pressure by those around them and were working to promote uncertainty

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses a meeting of the PN's sectional committees
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses a meeting of the PN's sectional committees

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil welcomed the European People's Party's decision to vote against Leo Brincat's nomination to the European Court of Auditors, claiming that a vote in favour of the former minister will run counter to the national interest.

"Tomorrow's vote [in the European Parliament] will not be about Leo Brincat, but about Joseph Muscat and about whether it is acceptable for him to have kept Konrad Mizzi as a Cabinet minister after the Panama Papers scandal,” Busuttil said in a speech to the PN’s sectional committee. “All those people who want Malta’s name to be respected cannot vote in favour of a person [Brincat] who had voted in favour of Mizzi during a no confidence motion. People with Malta’s national interest at heart cannot close their eyes to the dirt exposed by the Panama Papers.”

The EPP – of which the Nationalist Party is a member – said in a statement this evening that the Panama Papers and the sale-of-citizenship scheme are doing “untold damage” to Malta’s reputation.

“We cannot in our wildest dreams accept Mr Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors, out of all institutions, as his was until recently part and parcel of this government,” it said in a statement. “For the sake of Malta’s interests, we implore Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to see sense and nominate an independent and competent candidate.”

With 215 MEPs, the European People’s Party is the largest group in the European Parliament. However, it will require at least 161 more MEPs from the other groups in order to obtain a majority vote against Leo Brincat’s nomination.

Brincat narrowly passed last week’s vote by the EP’s committee for budgetary control – with 11 votes in favour, nine against and one abstention. Those who voted in favour of Brincat included Labour MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant, who was present as a substitute for a substitute MEP.

Busuttil said that Brincat’s grilling by MEPs – in which he was asked about his decision to vote in favour of Mizzi in a vote of no confidence motion - showed that European institutions were not willing to let the Panama Papers scandal slide by.

“Ahead of the motion vote, I had specifically warned Leo Brincat that he would encounter problems as a ECA candidate if he were to vote against the motion,” Busuttil recounted. “However, he ended up voting in favour – perhaps because he didn’t believe, or because he was scared, or because – as he said – Muscat didn’t give him a choice.”

‘PN can win the next election’

In his speech, Busuttil sounded a battle-cry to his supporters, expressing confidence that the PN will be able to win the next general election and arguing that the public has recognized the leaps and bounds that the party has come on since their defeat in 2013.

“No matter the propaganda, spin and lies aired at us by the government, righteousness will prevail,” he said, echoing a popular PN slogan.

The Opposition leader also rubbished Joseph Muscat’s recent criticism of the PN’s Cedoli scheme as “akin to money laundering”, that followed revelations that it has so far yielded the party around €3 million.

“Muscat was clearly measuring us by his own yardstick there. We only accept cheques from Maltese banks, that adopt extremely rigid standards on money laundering. If that’s a money laundering scheme, then what are Konrad Mizzi’s and Keith Schembri’s secret Panmaa companies?”

The controversial Cedoli scheme, which allows for loans of €10,000 that the PN will repay over the next 10 years at an interest of 4%, has been repeatedly criticised by the government and the Labour Party alike as the donors’ names were not disclosed.

However, Busuttil retorted that the Labour government has refused to publish several pubic contracts and that it had used a Cedoli scheme in the 1990s to finance the construction of its current headquarters in Hamrun.

He said that the high public interest in the Cedoli scheme is making Muscat sweat, pointing out that he had focused heavily on the scheme during last Sunday’s radio interview that was transmitted from Berlin, where the Prime Minister was attending a meeting with other EU leaders ahead of an informal summit in Bratislava.

“He was in one of the most important European capitals, meeting with other European leaders, but instead of telling us what he was doing there in the country’s best interests, he chose to focus on the Cedoli scheme,” he said. “When I heard Muscat speak that way, I realized that the Cedoli scheme was a success – as it was a higher priority to the Prime Minister than the summit he was attending.”

He also dismissed warnings that the Cedoli loans are being taken up by people interested in currying political favour from a future PN government.

“I am in nobody’s pocket, and if somebody who loans us €10,000 demands political favours, I’ll instantly instruct the party secretary to give him back a cheque for €10,000.”

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