[WATCH] ‘Egrant inquiry not finding enough evidence would be mind-boggling,’ Busuttil says

Simon Busuttil said he made no promises to PD leader Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia but, if elected, would make use of their skills

Busuttil said he did not promise anything to PD leader Marlene Farrugia or Godfrey Farrugia
Busuttil said he did not promise anything to PD leader Marlene Farrugia or Godfrey Farrugia

The possibility of a magisterial inquiry not finding enough evidence to warrant an investigation into whether prime minister Joseph Muscat or his wife owned shares in secret Panama company Egrant was mind-boggling, especially since a whistleblower had come forward to testify as to what she had seen and read, opposition leader Simon Busuttil said tonight.

“I shudder at the thought of magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s inquiry concluding there was not enough evidence to warrant a criminal investigation, especially since this former employee of Pilatus Bank turned whistleblower,” he said.

Replying to questioning by Saviour Balzan on Xtra, Busuttil said there was so much evidence Muscat should have left years ago and that it was therefore no wonder that the prime minister had lost all credibility.

Busuttil said that the allegations he made on Wednesday – in which he claimed to have proof of further graft and money laundering involving the prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri – should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

“In a normal country, the commissioner of police and the attorney general should have investigated the claims I made on Wednesday last year, when they first learned of the evidence,” he said.

Asked why he went to magistrate Aaron Bugeja, who is leading the inquiry into the Egrant allegations, to make himself available to present the new evidence - and not to magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras who is already leading an inquiry into claims that Schembri is involved in graft and money laundering with Brian Tonna - Busuttil said: “I went to magistrate Aaron Bugeja to inform him I was prepared to present this new evidence, because magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras’ terms of reference are limited to investigating Schembri’s involvment in taking kickbacks through the IIP citizenship scheme.”

He said magistrate Bugeja’s remit, on the other hand, besides investigating claims that Muscat or his wife were shareholders in the secret Panama company Egrant, also included establishing whether Muscat, Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi had accounts at Pilatus Bank and whether there was any truth to claims of money laundering.

Busuttil said he did not know whether the police had launched its own investigations into the allegations, even after having received damning reports by the Financial Investigation and Analysis Unit.

“The police commissioner should tell us what he did, whether he took any action and what sort of action he took,” he said. “But in the court of the people, with only the evidence that has already been presented, Joseph Muscat should have left ages ago, Keith Schembri should have been fired immediately and interrogated by the police and the same with Konrad Mizzi.”

Busuttil said that Muscat had repeatedly said and shown he was not ready to remove Keithe Schembri so he should shoulder the same responsibility as his chief of staff.

With regards to FIAU investigations into Pilatus Bank on possible money transfers between Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna and Schembri, Balzan presented a sequence of events that he said he had so far managed to confirm.

A compliance report was submitted by then head of FIAU Manfred Galdes on 17 May 2016, followed by a report by Pilatus Bank’s auditors, KPMG and lawyers Camilleri Preziosi on 8 June.

On 21 July 2016, the new head of the FIAU Alfred Zammit sent a letter to the bank followed by another on 26 September 2016.

Busuttil admitted he did not know of some of the events but said that the list frightened him and should have also frightened Muscat into immediately firing Schembri and having him investigated.

With regards to Busuttil latest claims of money laundering involving Schembri and the former managing director of Allied Newspapers Ltd, Adrian Hillman, Balzan said that a preliminary FIAU report had been completed under Galdes in April 2016. A first full report was finalised under Zammit last summer with a further report finalised in November.

As to the ongoing inquiries, Busuttil insisted he had full faith in the magistrates.

“But I am very worried that the two magistrates have to depend on people who have no interest at all to help them uncover the truth,” he said, insisting that he knew the identity of a number of senior police officers who, like the police commissioner, had chosen not to act on the information received.
My initial thinking was that I would have ten years to overcome election vote gap"

On snap election and coalitions

The Nationalist Party leader said that if he won the 3 June election, he would follow the example of (former party leader) Eddie Fenech Adami and work to unite a broken and divided country.

And although surveys still put the PN around 4% behind Labour, Busuttil said that if he had to rely on surveys, he would have left the political scene a long time ago, because for four years they had shown the PN to be trailing the Labour Party, albeit always diminishing the 36,000 electoral lead the Labour won in 2013.

“To be honest, my initial thinking was that I would have 10 years to overcome that gap and to regain the trust of the electorate,” he said. “Instead, I had less than four years at the end of the day and yet we find ourselves a mere 4% behind Labour.”

As to the PN’s coalition with the Democratic Party, Busuttil vowed that he had not made any promises to PD leader Marlene Farrugia or to former Labour Party whip Godfrey Farrugia.

“If we win, I will definitely make sure to acknowledge the contribution of Marlene and the Democratic Party and I would also try to make as much use of their skills as possible in the best interests of the country,” he said. “But, being the kind of people they are, they too never asked for anything.”

Busuttil reiterated he would immediately replace police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.

“Unfortunately the Attorney General cannot be replaced easily because his dismissal would require a two-thirds majority vote in parliament,” he said.

PN proposals feasible and

The PN leader that some of the Labour government’s economic policies had made it appear to be a party on the right of the political spectrum, even nationalist.

“And if this government seems to be nationalist, the country might as well have the real thing, not a fake,” he said.

Busuttil said that if the economy was strong now, it would be much stronger if a new government were to clean up politics and do away with the corrupt people running the country.

On the tax cuts proposed by the PN, he said that a proposal to cut tax on the first €50,000 profits for small business and self-employed to 10% would cost around €80 million.

“Our other proposal to cut income tax to 10% for all workers earning up to €20,000 will cost €44 million but will affect the standard of living of the people in most need of a boost,” he said. “More than a hundred thousand workers will save more than €1,000 a year through this measure.”

Busuttil said that he believed that certain services should always remain free, especially health and education services. 

“And we will make sure, because it needs to be done, to have 50% of board members be women, because we will otherwise never achieve true equality,” he said.

Busuttil acknowledged that the PN had dragged its feet for too long on LGBTIQ issues but insisted Muscat had, on the other hand, exploited them for votes for many years.

“Considering that civil union had already been introduced, I thought the party should propose gay marriages as a natural progression of the rights granted under civil unions,” he said.

He acknowledged there might be some PN members and MPs who do not agree with gay marriages but he said the LBTIQ community knew what he personally stood for.

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