The anti-corruption watchdog is investigating embattled former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over gifts he allegedly received from businessman Yorgen Fenech, Times of Malta has learnt. 

The Permanent Commission Against Corruption, which is a constitutional body, began investigating the case upon receipt of a complaint from independent election candidate Arnold Cassola. 

When contacted, Prof. Cassola confirmed that he had been summoned by the commission on Friday and spent 90 minutes testifying under oath and amplifying on his letter sent on December 27.

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He said he explained, in detail, the timeline of events from April 2013 until December 2019, when claims surfaced that businessman Yorgen Fenech, currently charged with having masterminded Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, gifted Dr Muscat fine, vintage wine and watches worth thousands of euros.

Prof. Cassola said that in the context of the provision of expensive gifts and the close relationship between Dr Muscat and Mr Fenech, he asked the commission to investigate whether there was any preferential treatment accorded to Mr Fenech in projects in which he was involved.

These included the inclusion of Mrieħel as a suitable high-rise zone and on which the Tumas Group invested in the Quad Towers, the designation of the Quad Towers as a Specially Designated Area and whether there was any special treatment given to Electrogas Ltd, the company entrusted with the new gas-fired power station.

Whether there was preferential treatment

The wine vintages were especially significant for Dr Muscat. One of the bottles was a 1974 vintage, the prime minister’s birth year, while the other two bottles – both 2007 vintages – mark the year Dr Muscat’s twin daughters were born.

The three Chateau Petrus bottles would cost around €5,800 if purchased online. A bottle of the 1974 vintage sells for an average of €1,400 among wine merchants, while the 2007 vintage would change hands for around €2,200 each.

These claims were made within days that the media revealed how this was not the first expensive gift the prime minister had received from Mr Fenech who had previously given Dr Muscat two expensive watches worth thousands.

Dr Muscat is alleged to have received a limited edition white gold Bvlgari watch valued in the tens of thousands of euros from the business tycoon as a Christmas present in 2014. He also received another watch, valued at around €2,000, from Mr Fenech on a separate date.

Mr Fenech was a director of Electrogas before he was linked to the journalist’s murder. He was also the ultimate beneficial owner of offshore company 17 Black which, according to leaked e-mails, was meant to transfer $5,000 a day into two offshore companies owned by former minister Konrad Mizzi and Dr Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Dr Muscat denounced the gifts’ stories as a “smear campaign” which contained “partial, deeply manipulated information being selectively leaked”.

At the end of 2019, Dr Muscat was named as ‘Person of the Year’ for organised crime and corruption by the Organised Crime & Corruption Reporting Project, made up of journalists and editors who said that his “failed political leadership” was now “shaking the foundations – freedom of speech and rule of law – of the European Union”.

According to law, the corruption watchdog can choose whether to investigate claims of corruption it receives. On the other hand, the Standards Commissioner, who investigates breaches of the ministerial code of ethics, is bound to investigate every claim he receives.

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