Updated | All smoke, no fire in Panamagate, minister insists

Richard Cachia Caruana denies having any links to companies registered in Panama

Economy minister Chris Cardona and shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi with Saviour Balzan on Reporter
Economy minister Chris Cardona and shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi with Saviour Balzan on Reporter

There is no corruption involved in the offshore companies held by energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri, economy minister Chris Cardona insisted.

"There is definitely zero no corruption at all in this case, and I challenge the PN to claim straight out that either Mizzi or Schembri are corrupt," he said on Monday might's edition of Reporter.

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"I have absolutely no doubt over Mizzi’s and Schembri’s integrity. Mizzi admitted that he made an error of judgement and that he didnt act according to established ethical political standards. However, he was humble enough to close his company so as to eliminate all room for speculation, unlike [former PN minister] Austin Gatt who said that his undeclared Swiss bank account was his own business.

“Everyone makes mistakes in life, but Mizzi has recognized his and is trying to correct it in an honest manner. This government is humble enough to retract its wrong decisions.

“Joseph Muscat wants the public to judge him on results, and not speculation, and all the PN have done so far is create pandemonium out of unsubstantiated allegations of corruption.”

When asked by host Saviour Balzan whether Labour can afford any more scandals, Cardona argued that “all governments face their own crises, and that all these incidents are helping this government mature”.

He also seized on Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s statement during last Sunday’s anti-corruption protest that Muscat “missed a chance to change the country when he was elected three years ago”.

“Was that a Freudian slip and an admission that the previous Nationalist administration was corrupt?” he asked.

Shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi was on the attack in the programme, describing ‘Panamagate’ as the “greatest ever scandal in Malta’s political history”.

“Why didn’t Mizzi even mention the Panama company when he first revealed the existence of his trust to MaltaToday?” he questioned, noting that a notarial deed said that Mizzi’s Panama company was set up “to receive and/or to pay royalties, commissions and other income or outgoings of any kind”.

“Ministers earn between €40,000 and €50,000 a year and Mizzi’s declaration of assets was too modest to warrant the setting up of a trust and a company, so why did he set them up?”

Cardona reiterated Mizzi’s claim that setting up the company only cost €92, but Azzopardi shrugged it off by arguing that “he doesn’t believe that and neither does the public”.

“Does Cardona seriously believe that it is perfectly fine for a sitting minister to set up a company in Panama, a country renowned for secrecy and corruption?”

The Opposition MP questioned why no libel case has yet been filed against Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, after several allegations of bribery she has made on her blog.

Host Saviour Balzan interjected, questioning why Azzopardi was using Caruana Galizia as a reference point, when she “is associated with personal ferocious attacks”.

“I can never condone personal attacks, but it is a fact that she broke the greatest scandal in Malta's history,” the MP responded.

Azzopardi described Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, used by Mizzi’s financial handlers Nexia BT to set up his company, as “one of the most corrupt companies in Panama”.

Mossack Fonseca is notorious for doing the bidding of notorious oligarchs the world over, including associates of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe and of the late Libyan premier Muammar Gaddafi. “The fact is that one of the most corrupt companies in Panama set up shop in Malta two months after the general election,” Azzopardi said.

Richard Cachia Caruana’s ‘links to Ann Fenech’

Cardona pounced on Azzopardi’s allegations against Mossack Fonseca and questioned him whether he considers anyone who deals with that company to be corrupt, a question the Opposition MP dodged.

Indeed, the minister claimed that Malta’s former permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana has links to a director of the company where Ann Fenech is also a director.

The economy minister noted that Mossack Fenseca had in 2003 served as agent for Timber Trading Capital Inc, a Panamanian-registered company whose listed directors includes Fenlex Corporate Services Ltd, of which PN executive president Ann Fenech is a managing partner.

Another company formed in Panama in 2004 with Fenlex, Karl Diacono and John Olivier as directors, was Union Private Ltd Inc.

“John Borg Olivier is also a director of Citco, along with [Malta’s former permanent representative to the EU] Richard Cachia Caruana,” he said.

Azzopardi dismissed Cardona’s statements as part of the government’s “pathetic attempt” to deviate attention from Mizzi and Schembri’s Panamanian companies.

In reaction to Cardona’s claims, Cachia Caruana issued a declaration in which he said that he does not have and never had any links to companies registered in Panama.

“Notwithstanding: (1) the impression given by The Hon Dr Chris Cardona in yesterday’s edition of Saviour Balzan’s programme ‘Reporter’ on TVM; and (2) the report in today’s online edition of MaltaToday, Richard Cachia Caruana has no links whatsoever with any company registered in Panama, nor has he ever had any such links.

The financial services company gratuitously referred to by Chris Cardona and MaltaToday is a Maltese registered entity:  that is licensed and regulated by the Malta Financial Services Authority; and that has, over the past few years, gone through the Malta Financial Services Authority's rigorous application process.

“Furthermore, since the entity referred to is a regulated entity, Richard Cachia Caruana was subject to a rigorous vetting process by the Malta Financial Services Authority prior to his appointment to the board of this company as a non-executive director, as customary. 

Richard Cachia Caruana has held no public office or any post with the Government of Malta or any of its agencies or entities since March 2013.

Furthermore, since March 2013 Richard Cachia Caruana has not been involved in any political structures, strategies or campaigns or meetings related to any such political strategies or campaigns.”

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