Come January, Mizzi and the Panama Papers will become a European issue
One can understand the European Commission’s reluctance to step on the toes of member states and one can also understand the fact that diplomacy has its many shades and tones. One can also understand that what is discussed in the corridors of power in Brussels is not always intended for, nor fit for, public consumption.
But what one cannot understand is how the European Commission can describe the Konrad MizziPanama Papers affair as a purely national issue with Malta on the cusp of assuming the Presidency of the European Union.
The fact is that Dr Mizzi is a minister who is about to assume a role in the Presidency of the European Union while contemporaneously being under investigation by the European Parliament. He is the only serving European minister of government to have been exposed, courtesy of the Panama Papers leaks, as being involved in so much financial hanky-panky that the mind boggles when one reviews the machinations he and his cohorts went through to set up the Panamanian company, the New Zealand trust and the supposedly unsuccessful attempts to set up bank accounts linked to those endeavours.
The mind boggles even more when one considers the fact that none of these actions would ever have seen the light of day had it not been for the rather fortuitous hacking of the Mossack Fonseca email server.
When this newspaper questioned the offices of European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker over this week’s ‘family photo’ in which he posed smiling with Dr Mizzi, the majority of the Maltese Cabinet and an assortment of EU Commissioners, the response was to the effect that Brussels does not meddle in national affairs.
The problem here is that, come January, this will no longer be a purely national affair. Come January, Malta will assume the Presidency of the European Union and all that comes with it. Dr Mizzi, as a Minister without
While the cat is away...
Portfolio within the Office of the Prime Minister, could very well be expected to wield considerable clout in EU circles, while at the same time still owning that company in Panama, which will ostensibly receive ‘brokerage fees’, and that linked trust in New Zealand.
Now being a power broker in the halls of Castille is one thing, but being a power broker in Brussels is another matter altogether – and the less said about this matter, and the ‘brokerage fees’ Dr Mizzi expected to “populate” his Panama company with, the better, lest we reactivate Dr Mizzi’s penchant for filing libel cases against newspapers who have dared to question his financial tactics and actions.
The writing, however, is very clearly on the wall, and the real power brokers in Brussels, who are undoubtedly no fools, must be well aware of the script. And as such, there is no doubt that there are serious concerns – they are just not being aired publically.
The issue will take on an even more concerning context once the European Parliament’s Panama Papers committee begins determining how, exactly, it intends to grill Dr Mizzi. It is still unclear when and how this will take place, but this could quite possibly occur during Malta’s six-month term at the helm of the EU – between the beginning of January and the end of June next year.
This newspaper had recently asked Dr Mizzi whether he would make himself available to the EP Panama Papers committee if summoned. His inexplicable reply was that: “If I receive such a request and justification, I will reply accordingly.”
Looking at that answer, one must genuinely ask: what, exactly, is that supposed to mean? Does it mean that “If they ask, I will give them an answer”?
It is more than obvious that Dr Mizzi is most reticent about appearing before the European Parliament to answer for what has been exposed in the Panama Papers. But in the meantime Malta is facing a situation of such magnitude while the country is also headed headlong into the European Union’s Presidency in January.
It is evident that a refusal to answer to the EP committee could have serious impacts on Malta’s EU Presidency as the EU Parliament might see that as Malta snubbing them, thus meaning they might stonewall other initiatives coming from Malta during its Presidency. And this could very well take place in the midst of Malta EU Presidency, a potentiality that would leave a considerable dent in Malta’s credibility as a serious nation.
Malta is certainly in the crosshairs. And while the government may believe it has managed to avoid the true brunt of the Panama Papers scandal by burying its head in the sand as far as its Maltese opposition and population is concerned, such ploys will serve it no good whatsoever when it comes time to answer to the European Parliament.
At this stage, there is only one reasonable course that the government can take if it is to somehow salvage its and Malta’s reputation: the government needs to cut Dr Mizzi loose and, at the very least, send him to the backbench – before Malta assumes the EU Presidency and before Dr Mizzi can be called before the EP’s Panama Papers committee in his capacity as a minister.
And for an extra show of goodwill, the government will also need to commission a full audit from a respectable foreign firm of Dr Mizzi’s financial affairs. Dr Mizzi had promised two audits back in February but has so far failed to cough up the results.
Anything short of that will merely increase the preexisting bad blood between Malta and the European Parliament, particularly in light of the cash-forpassports scheme, and which could very well render any prospective legislation that Malta may seek to pass during its stint at the helm of the EU a non-starter.
Pre-emptive action must be taken, and taken quickly before it is too late to salvage the situation looming ahead.