Come Jan­uary, Mizzi and the Panama Pa­pers will be­come a Euro­pean is­sue

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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.

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