No ethical breach when Prime Minister employed UK legal firm

Standards Commissioner George Hyzler says Joseph Muscat was within his right to employ a legal firm to send responses for a book, Murder on the Malta Express

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Repubblika activist and book author Manuel Delia
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Repubblika activist and book author Manuel Delia

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not breach proper ethical conduct when he employed a British legal firm to send letters in reply to questions sent by Repubblika's Manuel Delia, the Commissioner for Public Standards George Hyzler said.

In a report published on Friday, Hyzler said that Delia's lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona had written to him saying that Muscat was misusing public funds when employing legal firm Carter-Ruck to send responses to questions sent by journalists.

Delia had sent a number of questions related to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Economy Minister Chris Cardona. The questions were sent on behalf of a team of journalists, including Carlo Bonini and John Sweeney, for a book they wrote together, Murder on the Malta Express.

Lawyer Borg Cardona insisted that Muscat's use of public funds to engage Carter-Ruck was highly unethical especially since Muscat was answering to possible misdeeds of individuals, including his own wife Michelle Muscat, who is not part of government. He added that such a move was also meant to scare the writers with the possibility that they might face expensive legal procedures in London.

"The Prime Minister's decision to employ a foreign law firm on behalf of government was based on his own legitimate discretion, especially because the government had a genuine interest in the allegations made in the letters since they had a negative impact on the reputation of the government and the country," Hyzler wrote.

He added that while the letter sent to the writers included a declaration of the legal rights of the Prime Minister and other people concerned, such a letter did not amount to misuse of public resources. "This was simply a legal letter," Hyzler wrote. Such a letter, he said, did not amount to a threat either.