Former prime minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed he holidayed at a hotel in France owned by alleged murder conspirator Yorgen Fenech but has failed to answer questions about whether the trip was a gift.
Muscat confirmed to Times of Malta that he travelled with his family and that of Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis to the Évian-Les-Bains Hilton in northern France.
The trip is believed to have occurred before journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered - a crime which businessman Fenech stands accused of conspiring to commit.
Zammit Lewis said the trip, reported on Thursday morning by Lovin Malta, happened in 2014, whereas it cited sources claiming it happened in 2017.
Muscat said: “The stay in France some years back was part of a family holiday, and no local taxpayer or EU funds were used. We travelled from and back to Malta on commercial flights and paid accordingly.”
When asked in follow up questions whether this meant Muscat had paid for the accommodation or just the flights, the former prime minister said “I replied quite clearly” before referring Times of Malta back to its original source.
In a Facebook post, Muscat criticised Lovin Malta for "trying to link it to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia."
Muscat was also asked whether he had taken a private jet from the French resort to an urgent EU summit and if so who had paid for this.
He told Times of Malta that an urgent European summit had been called “at short notice after the holiday was scheduled”.
“I flew via private flight to the meetings. The said cost is borne by the European Union, irrespective of the place of departure. The same would have happened had I been in Malta,” he said.
Muscat added that Minister Zammit Lewis and his family were with the Muscats and that he had asked him to join for the EU meetings, “given he was a cabinet colleague”.
“I believe whoever gave you this information has misled you,” Muscat concluded.
In a post on Facebook on Thursday afternoon, Zammit Lewis reiterated that the trip took place in 2014 and said he was in Sicily with his family in Easter 2017. While he said he "didn't ask for any favours, freebies or free accommodation" he did not clarify who paid for the hotel stay.
Muscat has previously confirmed Fenech gave him expensive wines as a gift during a private birthday party held when the businessman was already on murder investigators' radar. The business tycoon had previously gifted Muscat two expensive watches worth thousands.
Fenech had also arranged a holiday to Las Vegas with then-financial regulator Joseph Cuschieri in 2018. Cuschieri resigned on Wednesday, one month after Times of Malta broke news of that trip.
In a statement, rule of law NGO Repubblika said it was concerned by the friendships and "unacceptable favours" between politicians and businessmen who "used gifts to get close to the decision-makers".
It said it was becoming increasingly clear that there was a culture where presenting gifts and making favours was a regular thing, even if this was not the way a country should be run.
"The friendship between Muscat and Fenech was the context in which the biggest act of corruption – the Electrogas power station – took place. That was followed by the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia which, according to evidence, appeared to have been committed to hide that corruption," it said.
Referring to Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi's free hotel stay in Tel Aviv, paid for by Fenech's uncle, the NGO said he "could have avoided what appeared to be an attempted blackmail".
The NGO praised journalists who refused to be bribed and urged all the people of good will to help destroy "the mafia".
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