Updated | Opposition insists Prime Minister should have dismissed Mizzi and Schembri, as Parliament discusses 17 Black

An Opposition’s request to discuss the ‘urgent and public matter’ of Friday’s revelations on the Dubai company 17 Black was upheld by the speaker, after the government agreed to suspend the normal schedule

A request by Opposition leader Adrian Delia to suspend Parliament's agenda and hold a discussion on 17 Black has been upheld by the Speaker
A request by Opposition leader Adrian Delia to suspend Parliament's agenda and hold a discussion on 17 Black has been upheld by the Speaker

Parliament's normal agenda this evening has been suspended after the Opposition requested to instead hold a discussion on the urgent and public matter of the 17 Black revelations.

The speaker upheld the Opposition's request after the government agreed to halt the usual schedule and hold the debate.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia told the House that in no democratic country could "even half" of what is happening in Malta occur without political responsibility being taken.

"The inquiry has to take place, but until this happens, those involved have to assume political responsibility," he said.

"The government has today agreed that the matter is urgent and of a public nature. It is of a public nature because it effects everyone in Malta, the identity of the Maltese, and our country’s reputation."

Instead of saving Malta’s reputation, the Prime Minister had remained hard-headed, for the sake of protecting two people, Delia said. Muscat was capable of taking other decisions and dismissing other ministers, but on this matter, his hands were tied, he insisted.

"What is there which is stopping the Prime Minster, who has no problems related to having a majority of seats in Parliament? Why can’t he decide on this matter? Why can’t he give answers?" Delia asked.

"Parliament is here to safeguard Malta and represent all the Maltese. What good are the people gaining from people who made a deal with someone for the purpose of giving that person a contract and in turn receive money from him?"

"If we are not ready to take responsibility for this in Malta, then we have truly thrown away democracy, transparency, the common good and public interest, and the tools for safeguarding people’s rights," he underscored.

Responding to Delia, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne repeated the Prime Minister’s line that the inquiries on the matter had to first conclude before any decision being taken.

He also stressed that Malta's intitutions were clearly working, since the information which emerged in the media reports regarding 17 Black were sourced from current investigations by the authorities.

"I had to chance to meet with MEPs and with the Venice Commission. They said they had been hearing that the institutions in Malta did not take action," Fearne said.

"According to the reports in the newspapers, the information they have is emerging from Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit report. So it is not true that the institutions in Malta are not working."

Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne
Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne

Fearne also remarked that it was hypocritical that the Nationalist Party had issued a press call for 7pm today, because it had been expecting that the government would not have agreed with its request for the debate on 17 Black to be held in place of Parliament’s normal agenda.

Does Muscat think people are imbeciles? - Simon Busuttil

In the course of the discussion, former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that, following the revelations on 17 Black, the truth had emerged about “the biggest case of corruption in Malta’s political history”.

“It is the biggest case because it involves the highest officials of government,” he said, “There is now a clear connection between corruption and the people in Castille, Mizzi and Schembri, the closest people to the Prime Minister.

He said there were three facts: that both Mizzi and Schembri opened two companies in Panama; that, as had emerged last April, the companies were opened to for the depositing of $150,000 in them a month; and that, as was revealed Friday, the money would be coming from Yorgen Fenech, one of the directors of the Electrogas consortium which is undertaking the power station project.

“When Labour promised to reduce energy bills, they were planning to pocket some of the savings themselves,” he said.

He noted although we now knew who owned 17 Black, the ownership of Macbridge - the other Dubai company named as a “target client” for Mizzi and Schembri’s Panama companies - had still not emerged.

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Even if no money had in effect been transferred, a crime could still have been committed if there was the intention to receive money, he said.

“Is there anyone who can guarantee that if they didn’t manage to pass the money through the door, they didn’t make it go through the window.”

Turning to the Prime Minister’s responsibility, he said that all Joseph Muscat had to do to find out what was going on was to ask Schembri, his chief of staff, about it.

“The Prime Minister either knew, or should have known, because when the existence of the two Panama companies was revealed in 2016, he should not only have dismissed Mizzi and Schembri, but also asked what the companies were set up for.”

“And if he didn’t ask them, it is his own grave shortcoming.”

He questioned how the Prime Minister could serious when he said that he had learnt who the owner of 17 Black was only when Reuters sent questions about the company [a few weeks ago]. “Did he not ask [Mizzi and Schembri] regarding this matter before that?”

“Of course he asked about this. If Muscat thinks the people are imbeciles, he is wrong.”

Busuttil went on to say that the Prime Minster had been doing all he could to stop the inquiry on 17 Black from happening, but then had the gall to say he was waiting for such inquiry to conclude before taking any steps.

He appealed to the police, the FIAU and the Attorney General to do what they were duty bound to do, and take action.

He also asked how it was possible that there was not even a single minister who had the courage to take a stand about the issue. “You persist in defending the indefensible.”

Next to speak was Economy Minister Chris Cardona, who said Busuttil had embarked on a crusade about Egrant, but had today chosen not to mention it at all.

“The only person who was sent through a window was Busuttil, when the people voted him out,” Cardona said.

“Magistrate Aaron Bugeja said that a 100 suspicions do not constitute a single shred of proof.”

Economy Minister Chris Cardona
Economy Minister Chris Cardona

Cardona made clear his view that the Egrant case and the results of its related inquiry had to be remembered.

“There can never be justice with the Prime Minister and his family [following the Egrant case],” he said, “The Opposition is applying the same method to 17 Black as it applied to Egrant.”

He said the Opposition was considering the media reports on the Dubai company as “scripture”, but the only thing which was certain was the Egrant inquiry conclusions which exonerate Joseph Muscat.

Earlier

The Opposition's  request comes after media reports on Friday named Yorgen Fenech - Tumas Group CEO and a director and investor in the Electrogas consortium - as the owner of the 17 Black secret company.

Fearne said that he was open to the suspension of Parliament's agenda and a discussion on the Dubai company, on the condition that it also included a debate on any other allegations made about other members of the House - including those in the Opposition - and those made in regard of MEPs too.

Speaker Anglu Farrugia, however, went on to approve the Opposition's request as it was submitted.

More in National

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe