The vice chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Panama Committee, Socialist Party MEP Anna Gomes, has called on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to “stop shielding his chief of staff”.

Ms Gomes was reacting to comments made by a government spokesman to The Malta Independent accusing committee president Werner Langen of joining a Nationalist Party campaign over the Panama scandal

Ms Gomes confirmed the decision to call on Keith Schembri to appear before the Pana committee was taken unanimously by all the coordinators of all the different political groups within it.

“It pains me that the Maltese socialist government – which happens to be part of my own political family – is trying to diminish the role of the European Parliament while at the helm of the European Council,” she told the Times of Malta.

“We have called on Mr Schembri to appear before us after he refused to do so in Malta. He needs to clarify his decision of opening a company in the tax haven of Panama, because he is an important figure in the Maltese government,” the Portuguese MEP said.

“It also pains me that the Prime Minister of Malta seems to be covering up for his chief of staff at the same time that he states he is against corruption and in favour of transparency. If he really believes in these things, he should order his chief of staff to come and face MEPs,” Ms Gomes added.

Asked what would happen if Mr Schembri again refused the EP committee’s invitation, Ms Gomes said it would be Dr Muscat’s turn: he would have to shoulder res-ponsibility and answer on behalf of his close aides.

Ms Gomes said the committee had evidence of both Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi signing documents to open secret companies in Panama.

He should order his chief of staff to come and face MEPs

“Because they come from my own political family, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question them. In a normal democracy, it is their duty to explain convincingly what they’ve done,” she said.

During its fact-finding mission to Malta last February, the Pana committee held a questioning session with Dr Mizzi.

However, Mr Schembri questioned the MEPs’ right to ask him to appear before them.

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister last week, the Panama committee asked Dr Muscat to use his influence to ‘force’ Mr Schembri to appear in front of the committee during a session in Strasbourg in May.

In response, the Prime Minister’s spokesman lashed out at Mr Werner, accusing him of orchestrating a campaign on behalf of the PN.

Mr Wagner rejected the accusation, noting that the decision to summon Mr Schembri had been taken unanimously by the bureau of the committee.

Questions sent to the Prime Minister’s spokesman about whether the government had replied remained unanswered at the time of writing.

When the Panama Papers were published last year, it emerged that soon after Labour had come to power, both Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri opened secret trading companies in Panama without declaring them to the local tax authorities.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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