Allegations that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife owned a mysterious offshore Panama company called Egrant triggered a general election three months ago.
Over 100 days since the election, many questions remain unanswered and – if anything – the whole situation has become murkier.
Lovin Malta had closely followed the Egrant case in the months before the election and, with investigations reportedly close to conclusion, here’s a rundown of how the scandal developed after Labour’s massive victory at the polls.
1. Muscat says Egrant allegations have not left him bitter (4th June)
After leading Labour to a resounding victory over the Nationalist Party, Joseph Muscat uses the Egrant story to make a case for national unity.
“My wife and I got attacked more than anyone throughout this campaign, but we have no bitterness and hatred in our hearts,” he said.
The two other protagonists in the Panama Papers scandal are quickly given top roles again – Konrad Mizzi is appointed tourism minister and Keith Schembri is reappointed Muscat’s chief of staff.
2. Egrant court expert sacked from government role (9th June)
Magistrate Aaron Bugeja (in front) with Godwin Caruana
The Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) sacks its Chief Technology Officer Godwin Caruana, after seven years in the position.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist who first made the Egrant allegations, pointed out Caruana had also been appointed a court expert into magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s inquiry into Egrant, suggesting the sacking was a vindictive move.
The government never denied the allegation
3. Muscat slams MEPs for repeating ‘fake news’ about Egrant (14th June)
Joseph Muscat at the European Parliament. Photo: TVM
Faced with questions about Egrant during a debate at the European Parliament about the rule of law in Malta, Muscat hits out at MEPs for regurgitating “fake news”.
“Whenever we ask people to point out the source of these reports, they always refer to the same blog with unsubstantiated information,” he said, referring to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog. “I had personally called for a magisterial inquiry into these allegations and have said I will immediately resign if it finds a shred of truth. I am ready to put my head on the line because I know it is completely untrue.”
During the debate, Muscat clashes with Werner Langen – the German MEP heading a European Parliament committee investigation into the Panama Papers.
“You can laugh all you like, but we will insist that you don’t get off scot-free,” Langen said. “If you keep doing nothing, then the committee will keep on following you and keep on questioning you…including whether you had bought votes in Malta.”
4. Egrant whistleblower accuses Muscat of intimidating her father in Moscow (15th June)
Maria Efimova, the Russian former Pilatus Bank employee-turned-whistleblower on the Egrant case, e-mails Joseph Muscat to stop sending “dodgy people” to intimidate her elderly father in Moscow.
“If you have something against me, there is no need to hire a detective in Moscow to find out if mother has really passed away,” the e-mail, published two months later by Daphne Caruana Galizia, reads. “My father is 70, he has recently lost his beloved wide, and he is very upset about dodgy people coming to his house and intimidating him. Speak to me directly and don’t involve my elderly relatives.”
In another e-mail to Aaron Bugeja’s deputy registrar, sent on the same day and later forwarded to The Times, Efimova said her father had been approached by two private detectives who said they had been hired by “individuals from Malta”.
“My father is 70 years old and he recently lost his beloved wife. Is this what you call witness protection?” the e-mail said.
5. Major sackings at financial investigation agency (30th June)
Charles Cronin, former head of the FIAU’s compliance section
The Financial Investigation and Analysis Unit (FIAU), which had carried out an initial investigation into the Panama Papers, suddenly sacks two its staff – Charles Cronin, who had headed the agency’s compliance section, and police inspector Jonathan Ferris, who had headed its financial analysis section.
The sackings came a few days after finance minister Edward Scicluna questioned how two FIAU investigations into alleged kickbacks by Keith Schembri and into the partial privatisation of Enemalta had been leaked to the press in the weeks before the election.
“Were these reports written to be leaked?” Prof. Scicluna said. “I’m just asking questions. For the sake of the rule of law, one has to rest assured we can have a strong FIAU.”
6. Simon Busuttil calls for full-scale Panama magisterial inquiry (15th July)
With the PN leadership election in full swing, outgoing leader Simon Busuttil calls for a full-blown magisterial inquiry into whether Mizzi and Schembri had used their Panama companies to launder money.
Keith Schembri files a police complaint against Busuttil, claiming he lied about him under oath when requesting the inquiry. Busuttil calls his final press conference as PN leader where he rips into Schembri’s police complaint as an “unprecedented and fascist attack on democracy”.
7. Sacked FIAU official gives explosive interview (16th July)
Police inspector Jonathan Ferris. Photo: Times of Malta
Jonathan Ferris gives a no-holds-barred interview to the Times of Malta, in which he claimed the FIAU sacked him because it did not want him uncovering too much dirt about the government.
He said the FIAU had sidelined him as soon as whistleblower Maria Efimova said she had seen proof Michelle Muscat is the true owner of Egrant, allegedly because he had arrested Efimova before in a separate case.
“After May 2, I became non-existent. Whenever I went to the office, it was like a ghost walked in,” he said. “I think even the staff had been instructed not to tell me certain things. They started dividing work between themselves.”
8. Court orders arrest of Egrant whistleblower (21st July)
Maria Efimova during an interview with the Malta Independent
A court orders the arrest of Maria Efimova, after she failed to appear for a sitting in which she was charged with making false reports against three police inspectors – including Jonathan Ferris – who had been investigating allegations she had defrauded her former employer Pilatus Bank.
Although the case is not related to Egrant, magistrate Joe Mifsud comments on it as he orders her arrest: “It is not right for this person to have brought the entire country to a halt and now fail to appear in court.”
At this stage, Efimova’s name is concealed by the local press – except for Labour’s media outlet One News.
9. Magistrate gives go-ahead for Panama Papers inquiry (26th July)
Judge Antonio Mizzi. Photo: Times of Malta
Magistrate Ian Farrugia accepts Simon Busuttil’s request for an investigation into whether Mizzi and Schembri had laundered money through their offshore companies, in what would make it the fourth ongoing magisterial inquiry into alleged government scandals.
However, Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri, as well as Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman and Kasco Ltd. managing director Malcolm Scerri all appeal against the decision, arguing Busuttil’s request hadn’t pinpointed a clear and specific crime.
Busuttil then calls for the recusal of Antonio Mizzi, the judge assigned to the appeal, on the grounds of him being married to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi.
10. Efimova revealed to have fled Malta, Muscat challenges her (3rd August)
The police inspector assigned to arrest Efimova informs the court he had been unable to do so, as she had absconded from Malta.
Efimova’s landlord Stephen Rossi says Efimova’s husband had informed him in July his wife and children “had been away for some time”.
“He didn’t tell me he was going to leave Malta, he just said that he wouldn’t be staying there anymore. I thought he wanted to move to a bigger place.”
Questioned by journalists, Muscat challenges Efimova to return to Malta.
“If she’s telling the truth, then she has no reason to flee the country. I hope she returns here to give her evidence – both in this case and in the [Egrant] one.”
11. Adrian Delia refuses to weigh in on Egrant (24th August)
Adrian Delia, back then still a candidate for the PN leadership, refuses to state whether he believes the allegations that Egrant belongs to Michelle Muscat.
“As a lawyer, I’ve been trained not to believe anything but to reason things out based on facts,” he says when asked by Xarabank. “If I had documents in front of me, I’d be able to formulate decision a but since I don’t, I believe no one.”
12. Egrant magisterial inquiry ‘nears conclusion’ (28th August)
Rumours start to fly across the Maltese press that Bugeja’s much-awaited magisterial inquiry is reaching a conclusion. The rumours were sparked by the news that Bugeja had started to take on new cases, despite the heavy workload.
First, MaltaToday’s editor in chief Saviour Balzan said he has been informed Bugeja’s investigations have found nothing but he is reluctant to close the inquiry.
Then, Daphne Caruana Galizia said Bugeja hasn’t closed the inquiry is because the only way he can prove Egrant doesn’t belong to Michelle Muscat is to find out to whom it belongs. The next day, The Malta Independent published an editorial saying Muscat is aware the inquiry will soon be published.
13. PANA Committee investigation draws to an end (6th September)
German MEP Sven Giegold
Investigations by the European Parliament’s PANA Committee draw to a close, with a report to be published in the future. However, German MEP Sven Giegold warns the committee’s firm had been “impeded massively” in its investigations because several politicians and businesses refused to attend hearings, while the European Council and the European Commission refused to disclose decisive documents.
“Ensuring tax justice, fair competition and effective prosecution of financial criminality is crucial to foster the credibility of the European Union,” Giegold said. “When it comes to money laundering and tax avoidance, many Member States only stand and watch.”
14. Delia joins Busuttil in the courtroom (18th September)
On his first full day as PN leader yesterday, Adrian Delia joined Busuttil in the courtroom as the court case on Labour’s appeal against Busuttil’s request for a magisterial inquiry continued. After journalists were denied entry in previous sittings, judge Antonio Mizzi ruled the appeal will be held in open court.
During the sitting, Schembri’s lawyer Edward Gatt clashed with Busuttil’s lawyer and fellow MP Jason Azzopardi over whether Antonio Mizzi should be recused as judge in the case.
As quoted by MaltaToday, Gatt accused Busuttil of “forum-shopping” – first insisting the police commissioner investigate the Egrant allegations and then going to a magistrate with boxes of files of documents.
“They’re expecting magistrates to act like Sherlock Holmes and see if they can find something in those files. Is this the role of the magistrate?”
Lovin Malta’s questions remain unanswered
Meanwhile, questions sent by Lovin Malta to Joseph Muscat three months ago remain unanswered. These include follow-up questions to the Prime Minister’s admission that investigations are ongoing into whether Mizzi and Schembri had used their offshore structures to evade or avoid tax. Lovin Malta asked the Prime Minister to clarify who is conducting these investigations, when they began, and whether any of them have since been concluded.
We also asked whether an audit by the tax commissioner into Konrad Mizzi’s offshore structure has been completed, whether a similar audit will be conducted onto Keith Schembri’s financial structures, and whether Muscat will take any action against them if it is proved they had set up their companies to evade or avoid paying tax.
We are also still awaiting a response from Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna on whether he has received the share register of Egrant up until the date of the company’s dissolution in April. The publication of the document, which Tonna had promised to publish five months ago, will allow people to view the entire shareholding history of the company.