17 Black and other reports are not allegations but facts - Opposition

Labour MPs use time during parliament motion to repeat Delia allegations

Updated 9.30pm

The Labour government was trying to shrug off a series of reports on corruption and money-laundering by saying they were only allegations, when they were facts, Nationalist MPs insisted on Friday.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia presented a motion calling for the House to adjourn, suspend the agenda, and discuss the once secret company 17 Black, which the Times of Malta and Reuters last week revealed was owned by Yorgen Fenech, one of the shareholders of the new gas-fired power station.

Dr Delia insisted the issue was of “urgent national importance” because of the gas purchase agreement covering the Electrogas plant and because the power station deal had been a central pledge in the 2013 election race.

Read: 17 Black owner identified as local power station businessman

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, speaking in the absence of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, accepted the request but said parliament should also debate allegations against members on the Opposition benches.

The debate was largely characterised by Opposition members calling for accountability on the 17 Black matter, and members of the government benches saying the matter would be decided by the courts.

Watch: 17 Black in 90 seconds

In his allotted time, Dr Delia said the latest 17 Black report was not a claim on Facebook or a rumour but a fact. He said that other offshore companies opened at the same time as the secret company Egrant really existed and they did belong to senior government members. The lack of action showed that the prime minister was “either an accomplice or a hostage”

Dr Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, and Minister Konrad Mizzi - who were both linked to 17 Black through companies of their own - should have both resigned long ago.

Dr Mizzi, the Opposition leader said, had not been working in the best interest of the country when he had been negotiating the power station deal, but “in the interest of his own pocket”.

A protest was held on Friday as soon as the 17 Black revelations were made. Photo: ReutersA protest was held on Friday as soon as the 17 Black revelations were made. Photo: Reuters

“Those that pay taxes, those that work hard, do not need any investigations to realise this is not on, to realise that it is not only bad, but an abuse of power,” he said.

The fact that the prime minister had not shouldered responsibility showed, he said, showed his hands were tied. This point was repeated at the end of the session by MP Jason Azzopardi, who said the lack of action showed that the prime minister was “either an accomplice or a hostage”.

In his allotted time, Mr Fearne accused the Opposition of putting on a show through the debate, insisting that in democratic countries, it was judicial process which established facts. 

The only member of the House who had faced serious allegations but was not subject to an inquiry, Mr Fearne said, was the leader of the Opposition himself, challenging Dr Delia to ask for a magisterial inquiry into claims he had helped to launder criminal proceeds in the UK.

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil also addressed the House, saying the 17 Black report was the biggest corruption case in the country's history. Mr Fearne accused the Opposition of putting on a show through the debate, insisting that in democratic countries, it was judicial process which established facts

“You can only call this by its name: corruption,” Dr Busuttil said.

Senior members of the government, he said, had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. And was there anyone in the House who could guarantee that although the dirty money had not passed through these companies, it had not actually passed through others that had not yet been discovered by the authorities?

Dr Busuttil insisted they were not in a court, but in the political arena. While the courts would do their work, politicians had to take political actions and shoulder political responsibility.

"You have the function and the responsibility to do your duty. Don't let the prime minister keep using you to defend misdeeds of others,” he said.

Dr Busuttil also turned to the government members and asked how it was possible that there was not one single member capable of speaking up against wrongdoing.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona retorted during his allotted time that the government was not going to take advice from the Opposition.

“If we had taken your advice, we would have believed you on Egrant,” he said.
Quoting from the published main findings of the Egrant magisterial inquiry, Dr Cardona said: “100 shreds of doubt do not make a single proof”.

A series of government members then went on to shout down the Opposition’s claims, saying the Egrant allegations had been proven false, that the country was living the best of times, and that the Opposition was in disarray.

Closing the debate Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said the House had heard several government members speak but the words “17 Black” had not been mentioned.

This was a corruption scandal that would have seen senior government members receive €5,000 daily for 18 years.

“So when you are going to the bank to cash you €40 cheque from Joseph [Muscat], remember that they are cashing in €5,000 daily,” he said.

Dr Delia on Friday called for the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri and Minister Konrad Mizzi following the report, saying that the prime minister should act if they failed to do so. 

Asked what the he would do if no action was taken against Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, Dr Delia said the Opposition would not remain silent.

The Labour Party had shrugged off the call, saying that Dr Delia himself had said at his press conference that he would not take the Times of Malta and Reuters reports "as gospel". Dr Delia also said when questioned that he was not claiming that there had been any bribery.

"It is therefore inexplicable that Adrian Delia would repeat this old line about resignations when he himself seems to be saying that what was reported in the media is simply an allegation," the party said.

The report was also described by the prime minister on Sunday as one of a long list of allegations, with Dr Muscat repeating that he would await the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry into the matter.

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