Two libel cases involving Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi were on Monday put off to October after the minister asked not to take the witness stand until he had testified in ongoing magisterial inquiries concerning the Panama Papers scandal.  

The libel suits are against former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil and MPs Jason Azzopardi and Marthese Portelli. They stem from comments made at a  press conference regarding the privatization of the Delimara power station.

It had been reported that Nexia BT set up offshore firms with Mossack Fonseca in Panama for the former energy minister and also incorporated an offshore company for a Chinese engineer employed by Shanghai Power Electric, the Chinese state-owned firm which acquired a 33% stake in Enemalta.

When hearings were due to continue in court on Monday, Dr Aron Mifsud Bonnici, counsel for Dr Mizzi, referred to a similar scenario a fortnight ago, and informed the presiding magistrate that Dr Mizzi was asking not to take the witness stand until he had testified in ongoing magisterial inquiries concerning the Panama Papers scandal.

The same position had been adopted two weeks ago when Dr Mizzi and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, had asked not to take the witness stand until they had testified in the ongoing magisterial inquiries.

In a reaction, Dr  Azzopardi said this was “a flagrant and persistent abuse of criminal procedural law.” 

Lawyer Peter Fenech, counsel to Dr Busuttil, pointed out that it was rather easy to hide behind such a request, adding that the magisterial  inquiry was secret and whatever testimony was given therein would not be made public.

Moreover, one of the libel suits concerned a press conference related to the Enemalta privatisation and had nothing to do with the Panama Papers.

However, Dr Mifsud Bonnici insisted that in that press conference there had been reference to the Minister’s Panama accounts.

“We’re not saying that the minister will not testify but, for caution’s sake, to wait until his testimony in the inquiry is over,” Dr Mifsud Bonnici insisted.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale adjourned the two cases to the same date in October when the other libel suits of Minister Mizzi are scheduled to continue.