PM reiterates Egrant denial as PN Leader offers protection to whistleblowers
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday again denied claims that he or any member of his family has or has had a secret offshore company or bank account, in any jurisdiction.
He was taking questions after a Socialist and Democrat meeting in Malta on the role of the presidency and the future of the EU.
Dr Muscat was asked why he had gone from pretending that blogger and journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia does not exist to denying her claims, including on Tuesday evening at the Labour Party AGM. Dr Muscat said he had made a mistake not to react earlier.
The Panama Papers pot was stirred again last week when Mrs Caruana Galizia claimed to know who the owner of the third Panamanian company – Egrant – is. She also claimed that she is aware of large sums of money were moved to bank accounts held by Hearnville Inc and other companies. Mrs Caruana Galizia further alleged that in September 2015, Minister Mizzi visited Pilatus Bank in Ta’ Xbiex, and that the bank was set up after 2013 in order to facilitate such transactions.
She also used a picture of the PM’s wife with the daughter of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, leading to speculation that Mrs Muscat or another member of the PM’s family might be the owner of the elusive third company.
Allegations about who owns Egrant have been rife since the Panama Papers scandal broke. One year after the scandal came to light, Dr Muscat said it was a mistake to remain quiet in the wake of insinuations that he was linked with the company, and that it was actually Brian Tonna, of corporate service provision company Nexia BT, who acquired it as a shelf company.
Panama Papers refers to the leak of 11.5 million documents showing the dealings between Panama based law firm Mossack Fonseca and its clients. Panama is an extremely secretive financial jurisdiction and the leak exposed how the world’s elite concealed their wealth for avoid tax, evade tax, while outright criminals used such services to launder money.
Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri had been named in the scandal for having secret Panama companies, no concrete wrongdoing has been found but the EU’s PANA committee said that it looked like a “classic case of money laundering”.
When asked how the Prime Minister has any credibility to talk about offshore companies, since his closest two men, Minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri had been caught with such structures but retained their positions close to the government, Dr Muscat chose to attack the Times of Malta. Instead of answering the question, he questioned how the newspaper has any credibility about transparency when it failed to publish an internal report into the allegations about former managing director Adrian Hillman.
Mrs Caruana Galizia had alleged that Mr Hillman and Mr Schembri had orchestrated kickbacks, which led to the resignation of Mr Hillman and an inquiry being drawn up into the matter.
PN Leader offers “protection” to whistleblowers
In the meantime, Nationalist Party Leader Simon Busuttil yesterday made an appeal to any members of the public to come forward with information on Egrant, or any of the other companies named in the Panama Papers scandal. He said that the PN would protect anybody who spoke up.
He appealed for anyone with information about transactions made about “this network of criminality in Castille [the Office of the Prime Minister]” to come forward. He asked whistleblowers to “do the right thing” by relaying any relevant information.