Updated 7.57pm with Delia comments
Nationalist Party MP Hermann Schiavone suspended himself from the party's parliamentary group on Wednesday, days after The Sunday Times of Malta revealed he and another MP had met with 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech.
"Despite knowing I did nothing wrong, I still feel I need to carry responsibility for my lack of attention," Dr Schiavone said in a letter to party leader Adrian Delia.
"I feel the controversy is distracting you and the party from continuing its fight for what is right effectively," he said, suspending himself and asking the party to appoint a board to investigate the matter.
Dr Schiavone and MP Kristy Debono met with Mr Fenech to discuss a potential sponsorship opportunity for a conference they were organising.
Mr Fenech, who serves as a director of the Tumas Group as well as of the Electrogas power station consortium, was revealed to be the owner of 17 Black, a secret company leaked emails suggest was created to funnel money to companies owned by minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Kristy Debono 'unfairly criticised'
In his letter, Dr Schiavone said that his fellow MP Kristy Debono was not to blame and was being unfairly criticised for the meeting.
"I was originally referred to another director but at the last moment was referred to Mr Fenech," he said.
"Ms Debono was not informed about the change in appointment and so is facing unjust criticism.
In comments to Times of Malta, Ms Debono said that she was not feeling relieved.
"I was willing to shoulder responsibility but I'm glad the truth has come out," she said, adding that Dr Schiavone retained her full support.
Although Dr Schiavone has suspended himself from the PN's parliamentary group, he indicated that he would continue to back the party in parliament.
"Although I will not form part of the parliamentary group, I assure you that in parliament I will be following the party line," he wrote to Dr Delia.
"I am in politics to serve and have always done all I can to serve any party leader I've had with loyalty and honesty," he said.
'We walk the walk' - Delia
In a statement, Dr Delia said he accepted his suspension.
"This is nothing but a testimony to how PN MPs conduct themselves,” Dr Delia later said, adding that this showed his party was walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Addressing supporters at the PN club in Balzan, Dr Delia thanked Dr Schiavone for his loyalty.
Dr Schiavone was elected to parliament for the first time in 2017, following a turbulent path to obtain a seat.
In 2003, he was forced to withdraw his electoral candidature as a result of an anonymous letter accusing him of wrongdoing.
A decade later, the party banned him from contesting the 2013 general election on a PN ticket, after he accused then-PN MP Franco Debono of being behind that letter.
Labour Party says suspension meant to quell disagreements
The Labour Party saw the suspension as another sign of the disagreement within the Nationalist party.
It said it was clear that the suspension was meant to put an end to the public spats between the two MPs and their colleague – especially just weeks before an election.
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