Parliamentary secretary lashes out at Jason Azzopardi's 'selective' and 'misleading' claims

Julia Farrugia Portelli said that a man who Azzopardi claimed had been singled out was in fact one of 19 people flagged as having obtained citizenship through a marriage of convenience as far back as 2006

Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli
Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli

The Algerian man at the centre of allegations of bribery in the issuing of Maltese visas to Algerian nationals did not have his citizenship vindictively withdrawn as stated by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli said on Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Speaking during parliamentary adjournment, Farrugia Portelli said she normally did not like to discuss specific cases in parliament, but she felt obliged to counter Azzopardi’s misleading remarks.

Farrugia Portelli said that while she hoped that Azzopardi had made a genuine mistake, the facts at hand showed that Azopardi had been selective in his remarks.   

She called on Azzopardi to retract his statement. “He should be man enough to come before the House and admit that he painted a picture that was not true.”

Yesterday, Azzopardi claimed that there had never been a case in Malta where an individual’s citizenship had revoked for any reason other than them having entered into a marriage, deemed by the courts to have been a marriage of convenience.

“It is right, and this is how it should be, that when there is a court decision stating that a marriage was one of convenience, that citizenship is revoked,” he said, adding however that this was not what this case was about.

In fact, Azzopardi pointed out that Article 19 of the Marriage Act listed a number of ground upon which a marriage could be annulled, stating however that such cases did not mean there was any fraud or that the marriage was one of convenience. Azzopardi noted that there was in fact a separate article in the law that dealt with marriages of convenience.

Man was not singled out by government

Farrugia Portelli started off by saying that, contrary to what Azzopardi had claimed, the man in question, a certain Abderrahmane Fezouine, had been singled out by the government because he had exposed corruption.

She said that Fezouine was in fact one of 17 people, adding that it was unacceptable for Azzopardi to imply otherwise.

Moreover, she said that rather than having is citizenship withdrawn, Fezouine had been informed that the process by which he would have his citizenship withdrawn had een started.

“Every individual that received this letter has 21 days at law to appeal it,” she said, adding that those who chose to do so would then have to appear before an inquiry board set up according to the law. 

Fezouine used to work for PN MP

Farrugia Portelli went on to suggest that there was a hidden story behind Fezouine and his particular case, stating that the man was a former employee of a PN MP.

“Ask you colleague why his relationship with Fezouine ended the way it did?” she said, referring to an incident requiring the improper use of photocopies from a business. 

The same MP, she said, had in 2014 “coincidentally” given a speech in which he questioned how “of all people this person was chosen to be an Air Malta agent”.

She did not elaborate further on the matter.

Azzopardi was selective in quoting court decision

Referring to Azzopardi’s claim that he had never heard of a case in which a person’s citizenship was withdrawn because of a court decision that found that their marriage with a Maltese woman was vitiated by a serious defect of discretion of judgment.

“Is he serious? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Farrugia Portelli exclaimed. “I would suggest that he carried out a basic Google search, that even a five-year-old can do, and search the words ‘Fezouine Qorti’.”

This, she said, would bring up the man’s case from which Azzopardi had conveniently omitted two particular paragraphs in which the court declared in no ucertain terms that the man’s marriage was one of convenience. 

In fact, while Azzopardi claimed yesterday that there was a specific Article in the law that dealt with marriages of convenience, this had only been included in 2004, two years after this particular decision. 

“This wasn’t Identity Malta or the Maltese government, as Azzopardi tried to imply, or that this was because the person was a whistleblower,” she said, adding that Fezouine had never sought protection under the Whistleblower Act.

Farrugia Portelli explained that there were five reasons at law for which one could have his citizenship removed, one of which was a marriage of convenience obtained through fraud of deceit.

Nationalist government took no action

The junior minister also quoted a 2006 report, which she said had named Fezouine as one of 19 individuals who had obtained citizenship through a marriage of convenience. She questioned why the government of the day had not taken any action.

She said the report had included individuals whose cases at the time went back more than eight years.

“You were afraid to take decisions,” she said, adding that the government was now taking decisions the PN never took. “What did you expect? Us to do the same?”

She said there were hundreds of files similarly awaiting a decision to be taken, simply because the government of the day did not want to do so.

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