Nexia BT partner Brian Tonna is to be recalled before parliament's Public Accounts Committee to answer questions related to the Electrgas deal after a ruling by Speaker Anglu Farrugia on Monday.

Tonna last week refused to answer any questions, claiming he may be a suspect in ongoing police investigations into the matter. 

Committee president Beppe Fenech Adami subsequently requested a ruling from the Speaker. He pointing out that while there were legal proceedings against Tonna regarding alleged money laundering involving Allied Newspapers and alleged kickbacks in the sale of passports, the committee did not know of any criminal proceedings against him over the Electrogas contract.

Tonna therefore did not have an absolute right not to answer questions by the committee, Fenech Adami said.

In his ruling, the Speaker said that witnesses summoned before the committee have a right not to reply to questions which may incriminate them, but they were bound to reply to questions about which no criminal charges had been made against them. 

Following the ruling, Fenech Adami confirmed to Times of Malta that Tonna would be recalled to appear before the committee and would be expected to reply to questions about Electrogas.  

In his ruling, the Speaker said questions about Electrogas were within the remit of the Public Accounts Committee, whose role was to investigate whether policy was being carried out efficiently and effectively and that public money was being applied for the purposes applied by parliament. 

The 2011 Guide to Witnesses issued by the House laid down that witnesses appearing before the House could not be put in a position of incriminating themselves. 

But witnesses were otherwise obliged to reply unless a member of the committee objected to the admissibility of a question and referred the matter to the Speaker.

In his lengthy ruling, the Speaker referred to various court judgements made after witnesses in the oil procurement scandal had insisted in 2013 that they should not be made to answer PAC questions once they faced court proceedings on the same matter.

The courts had found for the witnesses. It was clear, the Speaker said, that once a witness was accused of criminal matters on the same subject being discussed by the committee, he had a right not to reply to questions and to stay silent.  

The court had made a distinction, however, between a committee witness who had been accused in court and others who had not.  

Therefore, the Speaker said, the right not to answer questions and to remain silent was applicable only when a person summoned by the committee would have already been criminally accused on the same subject being discussed by the committee.  

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