Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday distanced himself from former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, saying he is no longer an integral part of the Labour Party.
In a post aimed at firing up Labour supporters prior to his prosecution on money-laundering charges, Schembri reminded of the vital role he played in the party’s succession of electoral victories.
He however declined to apologise for the government's past defence of Schembri, saying he could only answer for his own actions.
Schembri was charged along with 10 other people on Saturday in connection with a money-laundering and corruption ring linked to the multi-million euro sale of printing equipment to Progress Press.
Questioned by journalists during an event on ONE TV, Abela said: “Keith Schembri under my leadership is not even a PL member. I categorically deny he is an integral part of Labour.”
The Prime Minister also poured cold water over Schembri’s attempt to undermine the work carried out by the magisterial inquiry leading to his prosecution.
“I will defend the institutions, I will not let anyone undermine their integrity,” Abela said.
He said many of the accusations pre-dated 2013, when Labour was first elected to power, at a time when the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit was starved of resources.
Abela said his government’s commitment to strengthen the FIAU, police and judiciary were reaping results.
The Prime Minister appealed for Saturday’s cases to be handled with expediency, reminding how the people accused of corruption linked to Enemalta oil purchases had yet to have their cases concluded, eight years on.
On the alleged link with one of his ministers to a “big job”, Abela questioned why neither Vince Muscat nor Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi had mentioned the minister in question.
Abela slammed the political games that were being played, saying it only served to undermine justice in a bid to gain power.
The PM said that throughout his political career he had consistently sought to ensure justice was carried out.
Abela said if the witness or Azzopardi know the name of the minister in question, they should go ahead and name him.
“I cannot take decisions based on these manoeuvres,” he said.
Abela reminded how the criminal gang now facing justice had consolidated its roots prior to 2013.
“Back then there was impunity. I gave direction that no one should enjoy impunity”.
Abela also assured that he wanted justice for the family of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, as well for her memory.
COVID-19 and migration
Abela came out swinging against criticism by certain EU leaders about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses received by Malta.
“The biggest criticism levelled against Malta is that we received too many vaccine doses… I admit we were ambitious when it came to procuring vaccines, but we negotiated strongly within the EU framework”, Abela said.
Abela said the country was not keeping doses in the fridge or freezer, but using all of them, with a small reserve.
On irregular migration, the Prime Minister said that despite all the obstacles by the Opposition, the government had been working to tackle the problem. He said that contrary to the Opposition, the government’s starting point is that Malta is full up and cannot take more migrants.
Abela said the government had headed to Libya to tackle the problem at source, resulting in a drop in arrivals.
He, however, cautioned that the situation is fluid, with thousands seeking to leave Libyan shores. Abela described the situation as a “battle” that needed constant focus.