Maltese opposition calls for minister to quit over power station contract

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta’s opposition on Monday called for the tourism minister and the prime minister’s top aide to resign after an investigation by Reuters and Times of Malta showed that Panama companies they had set up had arranged to receive money through a mystery company called 17 Black in Dubai.

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi was the minister responsible for energy at the time a major power station contract was awarded by the government to another company, one of whose directors secretly owned 17 Black.

He has described the reports as a “coordinated attack” against him and insisted he never had any connections with, or information about, 17 Black.

But opposition leader Adrian Delia said in a debate in parliament on Monday that in any normal democratic country, ministers would have resigned if even half as serious allegations were made.

He said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said he would resign if another secret Panama company, called Egrant, was found to belong to him or his wife, as alleged by murdered investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia wrote in a blog about 17 Black Limited, alleging it was connected to Maltese politicians.

She was killed by a car bomb in October 2017, prompting an international outcry. No evidence has emerged that connects her death to any of her journalism. But her killing did renew interest in her many different claims.

Neither Muscat nor Mizzi attended the debate which ended without any vote taken.

In July a magisterial inquiry found no evidence that Egrant belonged to Muscat. But, Delia said, Mizzi and the prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri should resign because the reports about them had been proved and had not been denied.

He questioned why Muscat was continuing to defend the two, saying the allegations were damaging Malta’s reputation and Muscat would have to assume political responsibility if he continued to do nothing.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said the government would await the outcome of a judicial inquiry and would not base any conclusion on reports in the media or Facebook.

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said the Reuters report showed that Malta’s institutions were working because it quoted information from an investigation by the Financial Intelligence Unit. The government would await the outcome of such investigations before acting.

Former opposition leader Simon Busuttil said the case showed unprecedented corruption. It had emerged that the secret Panama companies opened by Mizzi and Schembri were to receive $150,000 a month for 18 years from 17 Black which it now emerged was owned by a director of the power station.

Funds were also to be received from another company, Macbridge, whose owners were not yet known.

The government was saying it would await the outcome of judicial inquiries, he said, and yet in court it was strongly objecting to such inquiries being held in the first place.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Richard Balmforth