Jus­tice Min­is­ter and Ja­son Az­zopardi at log­ger­heads over Speaker’s rul­ing

● Az­zopardi claims Jus­tice Min­is­ter lied to PAC in the past

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Helena Grech

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Owen Bon­nici and Shadow Min­is­ter Ja­son Az­zopardi are at log­ger­heads over a rul­ing de­liv­ered by Speaker Anglu Far­ru­gia, where Dr Az­zopardi has been or­dered to re­tract a state­ment in which he al­leged that Dr Bon­nici had lied to the Public Ac­counts Com­mit­tee.

In com­ments to The Malta In­de­pen­dent, Dr Az­zopardi said that it is not the first time the Jus­tice Min­is­ter lied to PAC, but he re­fused to di­vulge de­tails on this al­leged pre­vi­ous lie for the time-be­ing.

This news­room con­tacted Dr Bon­nici on this new al­le­ga­tion, and he said that he has “never lied” to Par­lia­ment, and ques­tioned why Dr Az­zopardi didn’t ask for a rul­ing on this al­leged

pre­vi­ous lie.

“I am not go­ing to en­gage in these sorts of games. He should sim­ply say ‘I am sorry’ for at­tack­ing me per­son­ally but he is seem­ingly not man enough to do this,” said Jus­tice Min­is­ter Bon­nici.

Dr Az­zopardi’s state­ment was never made in Par­lia­ment, the shadow jus­tice min­is­ter said, how­ever his claim was re­peat­edly made on a PBS cur­rent af­fairs pro­gramme, on so­cial me­dia such as Face­book and Twit­ter, and lastly on the Na­tion­al­ist Party ra­dio sta­tion.

It there­fore re­mains un­clear why the Jus­tice Min­is­ter chose to have the Speaker in­ves­ti­gate and de­cide rather than seek le­gal rem­edy through ini­ti­at­ing li­bel or defama­tion pro­ceed­ings in the courts. When asked about this, Min­is­ter Bon­nici said that rather than go­ing through court pro­ceed­ings he chose to have the Speaker in­ves­ti­gate be­cause ul­ti­mately Dr Az­zopardi’s state­ment was based on what Dr Bon­nici said in PAC, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee.

Asked whether Dr Az­zopardi is plan­ning to re­tract his state­ment, Dr Az­zopardi said “the truth is the truth”, adding that he will cer­tainly not re­tract the state­ment.

On a PBS cur­rent af­fairs pro­gramme, Dr Az­zopardi had said that the Jus­tice Min­is­ter told PAC that Hen­ley and Part­ners, the com­pany con­tracted to over­see the con­tro­ver­sial cash-for-cit­i­zen­ship scheme, was only re­ceiv­ing a four per cent com­mis­sion from the ini­tial €650,000 re­quired to buy Mal­tese cit­i­zen­ship.

Dr Az­zopardi then said that Hen­ley and Part­ners were be­ing granted an ad­di­tional 4% com­mis­sion on gov­ern­ment stocks they sold to ap­pli­cants, as re­vealed by the re­cently pub­lished In­di­vid­ual In­vest­ment Pro­gramme Reg­u­la­tor’s re­port.

Hav­ing re­peat­edly said that Dr Bon­nici lied to par­lia­ment, the Jus­tice Min­is­ter asked the Speaker to in­ves­ti­gate what he claims to be a breach of par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege by Dr Az­zopardi.

The Speaker even­tu­ally ruled that Dr Az­zopardi must re­tract his state­ments, and quoted from the PAC Com­mit­tee meet­ings that took place, as well as the An­nual IIP re­port and other doc­u­ments. The Speaker said that the Jus­tice Min­is­ter had made clear that there were cer­tain clauses in the con­tract that could not be pub­lished due to com­mer­cial sen­si­tiv­ity and com­pet­i­tiv­ity.

He also said that PAC Chair­man To­nio Fenech had re­alised, through the min­is­ter’s answers dur­ing the com­mit­tee meet­ing, that Hen­ley and Part­ners re­ceive funds from more than just the €650,000. This was also ev­i­dent in the reg­u­la­tor’s an­nual re­port, the Speaker said.

Asked on what Dr Az­zopardi plans to do next, he said that he will cer­tainly not re­tract the state­ments he has made, be­cause “the truth is the truth”. He said that he would ap­peal by us­ing the par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure avail­able to fight the rul­ing.

As to whether an ar­gu­ment could be made that at best it was a lie of omis­sion, due to the “com­mer­cially sen­si­tive” clauses that could not be shared, Dr Az­zopardi said that Dr Bon­nici’s state­ment was made “with the spe­cific in­tent to mis­lead the PAC”.

This news­room asked Dr Bon­nici for his re­ac­tion to the as­ser­tion that he tried to specif­i­cally mis­lead par­lia­ment, and he said: “I am flab­ber­gasted that after hav­ing a rul­ing by the Speaker, which is a very well-re­searched rul­ing, to have Dr Az­zopardi still per­sist­ing in the lie which he is at­tribut­ing to me, speaks vol­umes about the level of ar­ro­gance. It points to­wards the fact that the Na­tion­al­ist Party, and Dr Az­zopardi in par­tic­u­lar, are cham­pi­ons of neg­a­tiv­ity. They are so neg­a­tive, even on the face of this rul­ing they still per­sist on be­ing neg­a­tive and throw­ing mud, try­ing some­thing un­be­liev­able

“I think first of all Dr Az­zopardi is not cor­rect when say­ing he is go­ing to ap­peal. There is no pro­ce­dure of ap­peal­ing, what you can do is you can file a mo­tion in Par­lia­ment against the rul­ing and in do­ing so you are fil­ing a mo­tion against the Speaker him­self. What he is say­ing is he will put for­ward a mo­tion of cen­sure against the Speaker.”

Dr Az­zopardi has writ­ten on Face­book that “the de­ci­sion (the Speaker’s rul­ing) will be ap­pealed.”

“Even the choice of words shows that he is try­ing to mis­lead peo­ple in think­ing there is an ap­peal when there is not. What you can do is file a mo­tion of cen­sure so you would be putting a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in the Speaker. The least he would have done is to say ‘I’m sorry, I was mis­taken, I was trig­ger happy’, and I would have ac­cepted. It seems that he is so stub­born in his neg­a­tiv­ity that he will not ac­cept this rul­ing.”

While speak­ing with this news­room Dr Az­zopardi said “I will ap­peal in that I will use the par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure avail­able to me.”

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