There is no need for Keith Schembri to suspend himself from his duties pending a tax commissioner audit as "he enjoys my trust", the Prime Minister said today.
Joseph Muscat told the Times of Malta that the audit, as well as one being conducted into the finances of Minister without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi, were underway and would be published when finalised.
Asked specifically about inquiries into his chief of staff, Dr Muscat said he had faith in Mr Schembri as he had acted correctly when relinquishing all directorships prior to stepping into the political scene.
He added, that he did not believe many of the “incorrect things” said about Mr Schembri, which he said had “demonised him”.
The tax audits were ordered following revelations that both Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi had set up offshore companies after the 2013 election.
Asked about criticism that the removal of Dr Mizzi’s health and energy portfolios was not enough, Dr Muscat insisted Dr Mizzi was now answerable to him.
Offshore Register – ‘I agree in principle'
Dr Muscat said he personally agreed with the setting up of a registry of Maltese people with offshore holdings, but first wanted to assess the impact it could have on the financial services sector.
He was reacting to calls by Education Minister Evarist Bartolo for a registry of bank account holders who use tax havens to be set up to prevent Maltese depositors from using tax jurisdictions that did not have a tax information exchange agreement with Malta.
Dr Muscat said: “If you are asking does Joseph Muscat agree then I would say yes. But we have to see the effect this would have on the local sector.”
Anti-Corruption Summit: ‘I faced the issue’
Asked about his recent attendance of an anti-corruption Commonwealth Summit, Dr Muscat said he had not shied away from being there, despite Malta’s mention in the Panama Papers scandal.
“I raised the issue myself and addressed the Panama matter. Unlike, the Opposition leader, who while in government never spoke about corruption, divorce or other issues, when there is a problem I face it,” he said.
Dr Muscat said he was one of only a handful of EU leaders to attend the summit and several countries that were Malta’s competitors in the financial services industry had either shown poor attendance or barely made any commitments.