From left: Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech
Revelations that the mysterious Dubai company 17 Black belongs to Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech have prompted the Times of Malta and MaltaToday to resuscitate their calls for the immediate resignations of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.
“The political implications of this story are enormous,” the Times said in its editorial today. “In a court of law, one is innocent until proven guilty. In the world of politics, the principle of accountability demands that when the evidence screams guilt, the onus is on the accused to prove their innocence.”
“Faced with what verges on a smoking gun, and given the lack of explanations that might point to a more innocent scenario, the only option for Schembri and Mizzi is to resign or be suspended by the Prime Minister in order to clear their names. A trustworthy government cannot harbour members with such a dark shadow of suspicion hanging over them. Instead of fobbing off reporters with the excuse of “ongoing judicial inquiries”, what the Prime Minister should have told them is that he has demanded an explanation and failing a satisfactory one, he will be asking the two to step down for the good of the country.”
Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech
MaltaToday warned that Muscat’s refusal to sack Mizzi and Schembri when the Panama Papers broke out two years ago “will go down as the single biggest tactical error of his career, if not culpability by proxy”.
“Even without the latest revelations, there was already more than enough grounds to both remove those two officials from their positions, and also to investigate the matter as a potential case of corruption,” the paper wrote in its editorial. “But while inquiries were initiated – some of which are still underway – the truth is that neither of those things really happened. Perhaps buoyed by his own extraordinary popularity ratings, Muscat evidently felt he could weather the storm long enough for this episode to eventually be forgotten.”
“There were, however, some factors that Muscat did not include in his calculations. He evidently underestimated the extent of the international interest in this case, at both media and political levels: possibly under the impression that his own unassailability at the polls would be enough to legitimize his decision to retain those two officials in the eyes of the rest of the world.”
“Secondly, his standard formulaic response – ‘I will await the outcome of ongoing inquiries’ – did not take into consideration the widespread international scepticism (justified or otherwise) in Malta’s investigative institutions.”
Joseph Muscat has invoked the Egrant story to play down the 17 Black report
Addressing a political rally this morning, Muscat said he is not taking the 17 Black report at face value, arguing that a claim that the Panama company Egrant belonged to his wife had been rubbished by a magisterial inquiry.
“This famous company was first supposed to belong to John Dalli, then to Konrad Mizzi, then to myself, and now to someone from the private sector,” Muscat said at a political rally today. “I have no way of finding out who this company belongs to and the authorities don’t tell me what they’re investigating, but my initial conclusion from this report is that the Maltese authorities are indeed investigating these allegations, contrary to what some would have us believe.”
“I will therefore await the outcome of investigations [on 17 Black], including by magistrates who were asked to carry out inquiries by the Opposition itself. I’ll take action according to the conclusion of this investigations; I haven’t shied away from taking action in the past and I won’t shy away from taking action in the future.”