Updated at 11:25am with PN statement
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi believes he should have never opened a secret company after the backlash he faced when its existence was revealed through the Panama Papers leak.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that I should have acted differently,” Dr Mizzi told Times of Malta.
“Judging from the people’s reaction, I should have never set up such a structure in the first place,” he said.
Dr Mizzi was responding to criticism from his party colleague and European Commissioner designate, Helena Dalli, when the scandal was raised during her three-hour hearing before the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Asked by Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald whether she endorsed Dr Mizzi’s conduct on the matter, Dr Dalli said: “No, I do not agree. I would have done things totally differently.”
“Throughout my career I always stood up for the rule of law and democracy,” she added.
As a Labour MP and Cabinet minister, Dr Dalli had backed Dr Mizzi when the Opposition called a vote of confidence in 2016. He survived the vote and made a public apology in Parliament.
I want to ensure that good governance is strengthened
Dr Mizzi's Panama affair
This scandal came to light in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations when it emerged that within months of taking office in 2013, Dr Mizzi set in motion the establishment of a secretive offshore company, Hearnville Inc. A second company, Tillgate was opened for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, while the owner of a third company, Egrant has never been disclosed.
While Dr Mizzi insisted that this structure was meant to deposit investments from estate planning and protect family assets, he faced a public backlash and calls to resign from the Nationalist Party. They insisted this was the only way in which he could shoulder political responsibility for such “improper” conduct and safeguard Malta’s reputation.
Similar calls were made on Mr Schembri. The latter emerged unscathed as he retained his post, while Dr Mizzi was given a different portfolio but remained a member of Cabinet. Dr Mizzi also resigned as deputy Labour Party leader – a post he had only been elected to a few weeks before.
'Look on the other side of the coin'
In his reply on Thursday, Dr Mizzi insisted that he looked forward to taking more initiatives within his existing portfolio such as Air Malta’s restructuring and tourism projects. Moreover, he refuted claims that he had not shouldered political responsibility for his conduct while pointing out that in the 2017 general election he was re-elected with an even stronger backing.
“I want to ensure that good governance is strengthened, and am sure that if we have the Opposition’s backing we can be the best in Europe, in this field,” he said. When it was pointed out to him that Malta’s reputation was put at risk due to his conduct, he reiterated that he would have acted differently.
“We should also look on the other side of the coin and take into consideration the measures taken since 2013 such as the reduction in utility bills,” he said.
In a one-line statement, the Nationalist Party said the only thing Dr Mizzi regretted was getting caught.