[WATCH] Friends of friends? It’s nonsense, says new Montenegro ambassador Karl Izzo

MPs approve waterpolo national team coach Karl Izzo for ambassadorship, Opposition votes against


Karl Izzo has refuted suggestions that his ambassadorship is down to his friendship with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Karl Izzo has refuted suggestions that his ambassadorship is down to his friendship with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
‘Friends of friends talk is nonsense’ says Karl Izzo on ambassadorship to Montenegro

Malta’s waterpolo national team coach Karl Izzo’s nomination as non-resident ambassador to Montenegro has been approved by the parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinising such appointments.

Izzo appeared before the committee having replied to MPs’ questions in writing before the session. His nomination was approved, with government MPs voting in favour and the Opposition voting against. 

He did not take kindly to suggestions that he was being appointed because of his friendship to the prime minister, dubbing criticism as 'nonsense’. 

“I have always proven myself... what’s wrong with being the friend of the Prime Minister? He is my friend. I don’t need any favours from anyone. I built my business from the ground up, everyone knows the type of person I am... I am an honest man.” 

During the session PN MPs Carm Mifsud Bonnici and Hermann Schiavone both questioned Izzo’s lack of experience in diplomacy. Mifsud Bonnici asked whether Izzo had ever been involved in any form type of diplomatic talks or work for the foreign ministry.  

Izzo said he didn’t, but explained that he was involved in talks with Russia and Croatia on a memorandum of understanding, through which they would offer their assistance to Malta in developing a long-term sports strategy. “It will help us finalise the ten-year plan we are formulating for us to be able to achieve better results than we currently are,” Izzo said.

Labour MP Robert Abela was chairing the committee after Edward Zammit Lewis - a close friend and associate of Izzo’s - recused himself due to a conflict of interest, being a company lawyer for the Izzo family’s Dizz Group, apart from their close friendship to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Abela pointed out that Montenegro’s sports minister also had a background in waterpolo. Izzo replied that he knew the minister and had a good working relationship with him.

Schiavone said that while nobody was doubting Izzo’s competence in sports, the role of ambassador was a different matter altogether. He asked how his experience could help him in his role as ambassador. 

“I wasn’t an ambassador but I am Malta’s primary ambassador for sports in Malta,” he said, adding that he frequently represents Malta at the EU on sports matters. Furthermore, he said Montenegro was a country he knew well and one he had spent a considerable amount of time in studying. “It’s an interesting country that I think we can do a lot in.”

Izzo also pointed out that he has good contacts in Montenegro and has been to the country a number of times. He said he was convinced he could do a lot of good work for Malta in this role.

In their deliberations, both Opposition MPs continued to insist that Izzo’s background was not suitable for the role. “It would be understandable if this was for a sports ambassador role,” Mifsud Bonnici said. He added that the role was an important one especially one considering that Montenegro was set to join the EU and that Malta had offered its support. “We are not blaming him but whoever nominated him.”

He stressed the committee was not simply there to simply rubber stamp nominees and that standards needed to be maintained. “This man should not have been nominated,” Mifsud Bonnici insisted.

Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield responded by saying that he understood the Opposition’s position but stressed that public declarations against the nomination had been made before the Tuesday’s session. He said there had been qualified ambassadors that served for a year only in the past, including one instance where an embassy was opened with a qualified ambassador which was closed just one year later. “Qualifications aren’t enough to determine whether an ambassador is good enough.”

He said the Opposition was right to voice its disagreement but he could not accept it “looking at people rather than the role”.

Schiavone then pointed out that this was only the second time that the Opposition was voting against a nomination. “We have never looked at faces... justifying an appointment because someone who was qualified had failed confirms that he is not worthy of the role.”

Abela noted that the other time the Opposition had voted against a nomination was in the case of Daniel Azzopardi’s nomination as Malta’s ambassador to the EU. He said the Opposition had made the argument that Azzopardi was too young but insisted that the results being achieved had to prove them wrong.

He said it wasn’t right to say experience wasn’t a factor but it wasn’t the only one. He also said there had been other instances where a nominee lacked experience but where the Opposition had voted in favour. “The position being taken by the Opposition is based on the fact that people should be disqualified because of their friendships or links to certain people.”

Mifsud Bonnici said every position taken had been justified. In case of Azzopardi, he insisted it was about age, adding that this was in view of the important decisions that will have to be taken at European level over the next few years. “All we are saying is that his replies show he has no experience whatsoever in diplomacy... the fact that he is friends of the prime minister is another issue and one that the Opposition has not mentioned.”

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