Updated 6.50pm - Added Konrad Mizzi, Beppe Fenech Adami statements
Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Konrad Mizzi has told MEPs investigating the Panama Papers leak that he was "the victim of fake news".
In a declaration issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr Mizzi accused Pana Committee members of making "politically-charged statements" and implied that the committee hearings were not objective.
"How can a hearing be fair, when members of this Committee take a stand before I am heard?" Dr Mizzi said in his declaration.
MEPS investigating the Panama Papers leaks today met with Dr Mizzi and others in a whirlwind round of meetings.
In an eight-page declaration that boasted of his achievements as Energy Minister and reiterated his previous claims that he had submitted his financial affairs to unprecedented scrutiny, Dr Mizzi accused local media houses, including the Times of Malta, of taking part in a "wider coordinated attack aimed at character assassination" which was "orchestrated by the Nationalist Party."
A wider coordinated attack aimed at character assassination...orchestrated by the Nationalist Party'- Konrad Mizzi
In the declaration, Dr Mizzi stopped short of expressing contrition for having opened a company in an offshore jurisdiction, instead saying that with the benefit of hindsight "I should not have given such a sensational opportunity to my political opponents."
Dr Mizzi is the only serving minister within the EU to be named in the Panama Papers data leak released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last year.
Dr Mizzi also published an audit opinion of his Rotorua Trust for the period July 22, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The audit was carried out by New Zealand firm Crowe Horwath.
The audit opinion stated that Dr Mizzi's company Hearnville Inc had not conducted any trades during the period stated and that the group and trust's liabilities exceeded its assets by US$4,285 and US$3,750 respectively.
According to auditors, the trust as well as Hearnville Inc. held no bank accounts during the period under review. They noted that the group owed Dr Mizzi US$5,235, which Dr Mizzi said represented "set up fees which I personally disbursed".
Dr Mizzi said that he had recently started the process to close down the Panama company and pledged "full disclosure on the dissolution process".
In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said that no audits could replace investigations by police and anti-money laundering investigators.
Schembri declines Pana Committee invitation
Earlier today, the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri said that audits have proven that accusations against him over his company in Panama and trust in New Zealand were "baseless and ill-intentioned".
He said, however, that he has issued instructions for the company to be wound up.
In a statement released to the press, he said he had decided not to attend a sitting before the Pana committee.
Mr Schembri said it is uncertain whether the committee enjoys a mandate and has sound legal standing to carry out its inquiry. He also said he was not an elected official and held a position of trust.
'Schembri is Malta's real Prime Minister' - PN
In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said that Mr Schembri's refusal to appear before the Pana Committee was confirmation that he, and not Joseph Muscat, was "Malta's real Prime Minister".
"If Muscat were the real Prime Minister, he would have ordered Schembri to answer for his actions," the PN said.
'Warped partisan agenda'
Mr Schembri said the campaign against him and the government had always been driven "by a warped partisan agenda, led by people who stand to personally gain by seeing the downfall of this movement".
He said his resolve had only been strengthened.
"I remain focused and determined to ensure that Malta's future remains bright and that all Maltese benefit from this country’s success."
In his letter, Mr Schembri said he was uncertain about the committee's mandate.
"It is evident that there are those who are driven by insincere motivation and who do not truly care for the discussion driving the committee, but who will stop at nothing, contriving lies and falsehoods for the sole purpose of harming this government and the progress of this country."
Mr Schembri also made reference to blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, who has written extensively about the Panama Papers, writing: "I find it most peculiar that the committee would champion the cause of a person driven solely by hate, to the extent of wishing my early demise (as the attached report attests -
https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/12/keith-schembri-terminal-cancer-wrong-end-stick/ ), and who should be herself subject to scrutiny by this committee for alleged tax-based indiscretions.
"Surely this is not the kind of public discourse that is required to maintain a healthy democracy.
"Europe today suffers the effects that the legitimisation of such politics brings about."
Mr Schembri said this same vitriol has been espoused by the leader of the Opposition who, for lack of a genuine platform, had resorted to jumping on the bandwagon at every opportunity, spinning and manufacturing lies with regards to any and every exponent of the Labour movement in Malta.
Mr Schembri also included an audit opinion of his Haast Trust by New Zealand firm Crowe Horwath. The audit, which concerned the period between June 22, 2015 and June 30, 2016 found that the trust and Mr Schembri's offshore company Tillgate Inc "held no bank accounts".
The group and trust were at risk of going under, auditors said.
"As at 30 June 2016, the group and trust's liabilities exceeded its assets by US$4,349 and US$3,750 respectively. This factor indicates that the group and trust may be unable to continue as a going concern, unless with the continued support of its settlor," auditors wrote.
Fenech Adami claims his outspokenness made him a target
Opposition deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami said he had been the target of coordinated attacks by the government and its mouthpieces in an attempt to tarnish his name and reputation because he had been an outspoken critic.
"The last four years have been tarnished by one government corruption scandal after the other," Dr Fenech Adami told the Pana committee.
The PN deputy leader chronicled the list of what he described as government scandals, from payments of millions of euros from public funds to bail out private companies close to the government, disposal of public land in favour of the Labour Party, and secret trips to Azerbaijan during which deals were struck in oil purchase which resulted in losses of millions of euro.
He said Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, whom he described as handpicked friends of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, had the “gall” to start the process to register their Panama companies just a few days after being elected into power in 2013.
Read Dr Mizzi's declaration and audit as well as Mr Schembri's letter and audit report by clicking on the PDFs below.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us