Minister Carmelo Abela on Wednesday ignored questions over whether he had offered to resign, following claims linking him to a failed HSBC Bank heist 11 years ago.
Abela also said he was seeking advice concerning a letter sent to the EU justice commissioner by brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, in which the two murder suspects implicated the minister in the botched 2010 robbery.
Times of Malta reported earlier on Wednesday that the Degiorgio brothers had written to commissioner Didier Reynders, telling him that the Maltese government had rejected their requests for a presidential pardon because it did not want to hear the information they had on ministers' involvement in major crimes.
The brothers told Reynders that the former economy minister Chris Cardona was involved in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia while Abela was involved in “serious crimes”, including “complicity in armed robbery”.
Opposition leader Bernard Grech has called on Abela to resign.
When replying to questions in parliament on Wednesday, Abela insisted as he has done previously that these were "a lie fabricated by elements of the Nationalist Party together with criminals."
Will you sue for libel?
“For the sake of the reputation of our country, the integrity of the government you form part of as well as parliament, do you still feel that your position is tenable?” Nationalist MP David Thake asked Abela.
“Will you sue the Degiorgios for libel?”
Replying, Abela said he welcomed the fact that a member of the PN was concerned about the national interest, after spending years causing harm to the country.
Amid uproar, PN deputy leader David Agius objected on a point of order and said the minister should substantiate or withdraw the claim about harming the country.
Labour whip Glen Bedingfield said no standing order was quoted. He could give a list of instances where the PN had harmed the country, he said, but he would need two sittings.
Amid further uproar, the Speaker dismissed the point of order.
Continuing, Abela reiterated that the Opposition, particularly elements of the Opposition, had, for years harmed the country directly and indirectly, and to now ask a question related to the national interest was surreal.
He said he had followed what was reported about the letter and was seeking advice about it. He did not run away from court, he said, unlike an opposition MP who, he said, had not even turned up in court when he sued him – a reference to Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi.
At this point, further uproar ensued after Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar claimed that members on the government's benches had called the Opposition "rubbish and criminals".
The Speaker ordered both sides to withdraw unparliamentary language.
When calm was restored, Labour MP Jean Claude Micallef asked a supplementary question about funds for PBS in terms of its Public Service Obligation.
After the minister replied, Thake returned to his question, asking Abela why he had not yet sued the Degiorgio brothers.
It was a textbook libel case, he said. Did he have a problem with facing the Degiorgio brothers? He was not saying the minister was guilty, but the country’s reputation was at stake. Parliament itself should not have a shadow of doubt over it, Thake said.
Abela said he would seek whatever advice over the claims, adding that he would have no problem taking whatever action to safeguard his integrity and that of the country.
At this point, Labour MP Jean Claude Micallef asked about access to EU funds by NGOs.
Will you resign?
David Thake then asked Abela whether he had spoken to the prime minister about the Degiorgio brothers' claims and whether he had offered to resign. He also noted that PBS had not reported the letter to Reynders, revealed by Times of Malta.
Abela said he spoke to the prime minister about anything he deemed fit, and he did not interfere in PBS content.
Jean Claude Micallef then asked about the role of the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
After a reply to that question, Thake again asked the minister whether he had offered to resign or whether he intended to do so. He also again asked why no libel proceedings had been instituted against the Degiorgio brothers.
Abela said it was up to him to decide who to sue and when.
He did not reply to the questions on resignation.
Jean Claude Micallef then asked about the implementation of Labour’s electoral programme.
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