Muscat accuses Busuttil of personally requesting hotelier to pay PN officials' salaries

Joseph Muscat accuses Simon Busuttil of personally requesting Silvio Debono to pay the salaries of its secretary general and CEO  

Joseph Muscat was addressing a live Q&A session on Facebook
Joseph Muscat was addressing a live Q&A session on Facebook

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has claimed that Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had personally asked hotelier Silvio Debono for donations to cover the salaries of the PN’s secretary general and CEO.

Addressing a live Facebook Q&A session, Muscat repeated a statement made this evening by Labour news organ One News and warned that the controversy could amount to a case of fraud or money laundering.

Without offering proof, One News said that Busuttil himself was the “high-ranking PN official” who had asked Debono to pay the salaries of the two officials.

The report claimed that Busuttil had first approached Debono with this request in the summer of 2013, back when Chris Said was secretary general. He approached him again a year later, when Brian St John had taken up the newly-created post of PN chief executive.

In a statement issued later, Said accused Labour of lying about him, noting that he hadn't been paid for his role as secretary general. 

Muscat urged the Electoral Commissioner to investigate what could amount to fraud and money laundering, arguing that the PN’s media arm MediaLink had issued false invoices declaring that Debono had paid €70,000 for advertising space when he had actually paid for salaries.

“It is not normal for the salaries of a political party’s officials to be financed by a businessman. The Labour Party never used that system, and indeed I know of no normal party that does.”

He dismissed Busuttil’s announcement that he will set up an independent commission to come up with proposals on party financing for the PN to include in its next electoral manifesto.

“Busuttil is only saying that he wants reform after he was caught with his hands in the cookie jar,” Muscat said. “This is similar to how the previous Cabinet had given itself a €500 pay-rise but decided to return the money after it had been exposed.

“We are not perfect, but we have never preached about perfection as Simon Busuttil has. The public is wise enough to realize that Busuttil has now betrayed their trust.

“He was being politically false when he said that he inherited this mess. No, he made this mess himself. He had four years to arrange it, but instead he introduced a system of false invoices to pay the salaries of PN officials, as well as the Cedoli scheme that served to bypass the new party financing law.”

He said that if Busuttil wants a serious debate on whether the state should finance political parties, he must first scrap the controversial Cedoli scheme and publish the list of people who had loaned money to the PN through it. 

‘Look at your own backyard for money laundering’ – PN

The Nationalist Party reacted by urging Muscat to look at his own offices at Castille to find a true case of money laundering, a clear reference to the Panama scandal.

“Unlike Muscat, Busuttil didn’t make for the emergency exit but rather faced the media twice to answer all their questions related to donations and payments that were made by Silvio Debono’s companies to the PN and MediaLink,” it said. “Indeed, the PN revealed those details itself because we have nothing to hide. On the other hand, no one knows what donations Muscat’s party has received.” 

‘Time for Parliament gender quotas’ 

During the Facebook session, held on International Women’s Day, Muscat notably floated a proposal to introduce a gender quota system for MPs. However, he insisted that he is not calling for a reduction in the amount of male MPs but rather an increase in the female MPs – ostensibly suggesting an even more bloated Parliament.

“In the coming months I will announce a proposal that will increase the amount of female MPs without decreasing the amount of male ones,” he said. “Those who get elected will gain a seat in Parliament, but over and above that, there will be an increased female participation with the aim of striking some sort of balance.

“I hope that the amount of female MPs in the coming years starts to resemble other European Parliaments, and I hope that eventually we will have no further need of quotas. I realize that I’ll be criticised by men and women alike for this proposal but I don’t see any other way to kickstart the increased participation of women in political life.”