Nationalist MP Hermann Schiavone has suspended himself from the party after it was revealed that he and fellow MP Kristy Debono had met up with Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech, the man behind the secret Dubai company 17 Black.
In an email to Opposition leader Adrian Delia, Schiavone insisted he met Feench to discuss the possible sponsorship of a conference room for a political event.
“As you well know, logistical issues are never discussed with you, as was the case here,” he said.
Schiavone said he had originally scheduled a meeting with another Tumas Group director but was referred to Yorgen Fenech at the last minute. He said Debono hadn’t been informed of the change of plans in advance and that the criticism she is facing is unfair.
The MP confirmed that neither he nor Debono brought up the issue of 17 Black during the meeting, stating that “we only discussed the conference during this brief meeting”.
“Although I did nothing wrong, I still feel I should shoulder responsibility for my carelessness,” he said. “I feel that this controversy is distracting you and the party from effectively continuing its fight for righteousness. I am in politics to serve and I have always done my utmost to serve all my leaders and the party with the utmost honesty and loyalty.”
“I have always believed the party is greater than any individual and that politicians shouldn’t only do what is right but also show that we are doing what is right.”
He will stay on as an independent MP and has promised to keep toeing the party line in Parliament.
Hermann Schiavone with PN leader Adrian Delia
Fenech is CEO of the Tumas Group, the powerful business group behind the Portomaso complex, the Dolmen Resort Hotel and several other properties, entertainment and catering outlets. He is also the shareholder of the Electrogas consortium, which runs the LNG power station in Delimara.
However, an investigation by the Daphne Project last November found that Fenech was also the owner of the mysterious Dubai company 17 Black. Emails from the Panama Papers indicate that 17 Black was one of two companies which were supposed to transfer monthly fees of €150,000 to the Panama companies of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Opposition leader Adrian Delia has described the findings as a massive scandal and has called for the resignations of Mizzi and Schembri over it. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said he will await the findings of a magisterial inquiry into the company before taking action.
However, the news that Debono and Schiavone had requested money from a man at the centre of the largest corruption story in recent years angered several PN supporters and risked opening internal wounds with weeks to go before the European Parliament and local council elections.