Updated 3pm with Azzopardi's reply
Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi was branded a "false and hypocrite MP” by the Labour Party amid reports that he had failed to declare his income tax returns.
During a news conference at the Labour headquarters, minister Clayton Bartolo and PL whip Glenn Bedingfield said opposition leader Bernard Grech is not credible with people like Azzopardi within his party's ranks.
Azzopardi was propelled into the limelight after he alleged that permanent public secretary Mario Cutajar had abused his power to intimidate a former high-ranking inland revenue official in 2013.
His accusation elicited a counter-attack from the Labour ranks, who accused him of not having filed a tax return for his 2018 income. The claim was first published by ONE, which obtained tax returns by filing a request through parliament.
"We have a clear demonstration of how the PN talks a lot but does not apply its own standards to itself, especially in light of Grech's own issues with the tax authorities,” Bartolo said.
However, both failed to answer reporters' questions about whether the government is actually investigating Azzopardi’s claims, arguing instead there was no reason to disbelieve what Cutajar is saying.
“All I know about the allegations is what is in the public domain. As an MP I don’t have the power to investigate this,” Bedingfield said.
The willingness to take Cutajar at his word was not based on the whip’s fact-checking, he said. Instead, Bedingfield argued that he believes Cutajar because “this isn’t the first time Azzopardi failed to speak the truth”.
“It’s not the first time Azzopardi spoke of these kinds of allegations while using parliamentary privilege to attack people without basing his theories on facts,” Bedingfield said.
'Cowardly attempt' - Azzopardi
In a reply, Azzopardi said that he had not filed tax returns on time because separation proceedings between himself and his wife had made it impossible to do so.
He had filed returns for 2018 and 2019 with the tax department last January and was now waiting for the department to process them and split them into separate accounts, as is standard practice in such cases, he said.
Tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty informed the parliamentary clerk of this, he said, and the clerk had also informed ONE News, which first reported on Azzopardi's tax returns.
"It is cowardly of ONE News to try and take advantage of a personal problem of mine, which thousands of Maltese go through, to try and smear me," Azzopardi said.
Azzopardi added that there was no truth to claims that he spoken about the frame-up of a former high-ranking tax officer after learning about ONE's impending story about him, and said records would prove this.
"I was scheduled to speak in parliament's adjournment for more than a week prior," he said.