Parliament erupted into chaos tonight as former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insisted he still believes Prime Minister Joseph Muscat owns the Panama company Egrant, despite a magisterial inquiry finding no proof to back this theory up.
Over shouts of ‘Liar!’ from the government benches and frequent points of order to urge the Speaker to stop Busuttil straight out implicating Muscat in a crime, the former PN leader attempted to back up this theory.
“The Prime Minister is spinning and manipulating 50 pages of his choice out of a report of 1,500 pages,” Busuttil said, referring to Aaron Bugeja’s conclusions on the Egrant inquiry. “However, even those 50 pages didn’t say that Egrant didn’t belong to the Prime Minister but that it couldn’t prove that it belonged to him. This makes a huge difference as the magistrate could only have definitively ruled out that the Prime Minister owns Egrant if he had found out its true owner.”
Busuttil said he finds it “impossible” that Muscat did not find out who owns Egrant from Nexia BT boss Brian Tonna, who had ordered the company from now-defunct Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca along with two other companies intended for Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.
“It’s obvious that the Prime Minister knows who Egrant belongs to because he could have easily asked Tonna. One must be stupid not to believe that the Prime Minister knows who owns Egrant.”
Tonna has repeatedly insisted that Egrant was always a shelf company that he himself had owned from the start and indeed there was clearly far less activity for this company than for Mizzi’s and Schembri’s. For example, while Nexia BT set up trusts for Hearnville and Tillgate and repeatedly tried and failed to open up bank accounts for them, but didn’t do the same for Egrant. However, leaked internal services confirm it had cost Nexia BT $2,000 a year to conceal Egrant’s ownership through nominee shareholders. Indeed, Nexia BT had racked up a $10,000 bill for Egrant’s nominee services as of 2017.
Tonna has also backed down on a promise to publish Egrant’s share register at the date of dissolution, which should contain the company’s entire shareholding history and prove whether he had really had owned the company all along.
Busuttil said he still believes Egrant belongs to Muscat or his wife Michelle because the Prime Minister has refused to sack Mizzi and Schembri and because Daphne Caruana Galizia, who published the story, had proved to be a credible source of information on the Panama Papers.
Government MPs kept halting Busuttil’s speech with points of order as his argument that Muscat either owns or knows who owns Egrant had directly implicated the Prime Minister of a crime – that of withholding evidence from magistrate Aaron Bugeja.
Yet Busuttil soldiered on, dismissing the government MPs’ warnings as a sign that the truth was pricking them and as proof that they were trying to clamp down on his freedom of speech. In the end, Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield lost his cool and shouted ‘Liar!’ at Busuttil while he was speaking, prompting deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg to kick him out of the House.