Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat breached ethical standards when he accepted expensive Petrus wine bottles from Yorgen Fenech, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler has found.
Three wine bottles, to the tune of at least €5,000 per bottle, were presented to Muscat at an exclusive birthday party held at the Girgenti Official residence in February 2019.
In his defence, Muscat said that he was advised by the Security Services to act normally when dealing with Fenech so as not to arouse his suspicion that he was under police investigation for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
He said he didn’t keep the wine bottles himself but left them in the property of the state and that the gifts in no way impacted his judgement when making decisions in relation to the Caruana Galizia murder case.
Muscat claimed that the controversy over the wine bottles is being fuelled by certain people involved in the murder to fuel a narrative that they will be able to utilise later on in the court proceedings.
“I believe institutions shouldn’t allow themselves to be used to add weight these narratives for obvious reasons of substance and perception,” he said.
However, Hyzler dismissed these arguments, noting that the Code of Ethics for Cabinet members precludes them from accepting expensive gifts even if such gifts “reasonably create the impression that their judgement is being compromised”.
“Even putting the corruption accusations aside, there is controversy over whether the Electrogas deal represents value for money for Maltese taxpayers and about changes in the local plans that allowed a consortium, including [the Tumas Group] to build high-rise buildings in Mrieħel,” he said.
“I won’t delve into these cases but I’m mentioning them to show how easy it is for suspicions to be raised that big businessmen are exercising undue influence and how important it is for Prime Ministers and ministers to keep an adequate social distance from these people.”
He noted that Muscat’s statement that the Security Services told him to “act normal” when dealing with Fenech implied that it would have been normal for him to invite him to a private birthday party and accept expensive gifts from him had he not been a person of interest in a murder case, this despite his several business relationships with the government.