Muscat asks police commissioner to take Egrant allegations to duty magistrate

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced he has asked the police commissioner to ask a duty magistrate to start an investigation into the allegations that his family owns an offshore Panamanian company

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has called for a magisterial inquiry into unverified allegations of his family’s ownership of an offshore company
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has called for a magisterial inquiry into unverified allegations of his family’s ownership of an offshore company

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced he has asked the Commissioner of Police to appoint an inquiring magistrate to investigate the allegations published on Thursday, by blogger and Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Muscat has denied allegations that an offshore company in Panama, set up by the audit firm Nexia BT and revealed during 2016’s Panama Papers leaks, belonged to his wife Michelle.

“The Prime Minister has asked his lawyers to request the Commissioner of Police, to inform a duty magistrate tonight, to review the allegations published by Daphne Caruana Galizia, so as to hold an inquiry and preserve all evidence, and give direction to the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police to take all steps as necessary,” the statement released late on Thursday said.

Muscat reiterated earlier denials, saying this was “the greatest lie in political history” and accused Opposition leader Simon Busuttil of sinking to new lows.

“Truth is the strongest weapon against lies and dirt,” Muscat said.

The statement came in the wake of several allegations by Daphne Caruana Galizia:

• That Pilatus Bank in Malta had authorised a USD1 million loan to the fashion company owned by chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad to his sister Negarin Sadr, of which $400,000 were paid out to a bank account held by Michelle Buttigieg in New York, who owns the Buttardi costume jewellery firm with Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle;

• That declarations of trust showing the shares in Egrant are held by Mossack Fonseca nominees for “Mrs Michelle Muscat”, were held inside a safe kept in the kitchen of Pilatus Bank in Ta’ Xbiex after these were provided by Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna, as a prerequisite to open an account for Egrant, which required the identity of the ultimate beneficial owner;

• That a Dubai-registered company, Al Sahra FZCO – reportedly owned by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev – had made a single payment transaction of US$1.017 million to Egrant in 2016 through a bank account in Dubai;

• And that money was paid from Azerbaijani interests into bank accounts held by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri for their offshore Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate.

Mizzi and Schembri sued Caruana Galizia for libel earlier this week, while Muscat said he would follow suit on the latest allegations.

“A lie like this cannot be ignored, especially when it is being substantiated in the most irresponsible and unethical way by the Opposition leader and his party’s media.”

Muscat dubbed the claims as “the biggest ever political lie to take place in the history of the country” and said he was challenging anybody to produce “any shred of evidence” to substantiate the allegations, and that he would be requiring the fullest of authentication of any such evidence.

“If there is someone who has managed to produce such a heinous lie, I do not exclude that there would be anything stopping them from producing falsified evidence.”

The claims comes days after Caruana Galizia first posted a photo of Muscat in the company of Leila Aliyeva, the daughter of Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, suggesting she knew who the owner of Egrant was.

Muscat this week told a Labour general conference that he denied holding any offshore companies, or that any of his family members or his wife had an undeclared bank account.

The Panama scandal has weighed heavily on the Prime Minister. Despite enjoying good polling since the scandal broke in 2016, his reluctance to have the matter investigated and his decision to keep Schembri and Mizzi by his side, tarnished his reputation.

Additionally, Labour’s key policy plank, a new 200MW gas plant to reduce energy prices, is being constructed by a consortium which includes Azerbaijani state company SOCAR. In 2015, then energy minister Konrad Mizzi was accused of having intervened in a hedging decision at Enemalta, which resulted in a €14 million loss on fuel prices.