Parliament committee rejects Maltese candidate for Court of Auditors

Toni Abela [Times of Malta]

The European Parliament’s Budgetary Committee blatantly rejected yesterday (15 March) the Maltese government’s nomination of Toni Abela for the European Court of Auditors.

The decision followed a question and answer session with Abela. Seventeen committee members voted against the nomination, and nine were in favour.

The Court is composed of one member from each member state, who are appointed after a hearing in the Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament, and a non-binding majority-vote in the Committee, as well as in the plenary of the European Parliament.

“I didn’t make it, it’s all over for me. I have no comments to give. Leave me alone,” Abela said after the decision was announced.

Abela, 59, was to replace Louis Galea, whose five-year term will end in the coming months. A lawyer for 33 years, Abela specialises in constitutional and administrative law.

But Abela was handicapped by an affair dating from 2011, in which he had prevented two persons involved in a cocaine affair from being investigated by the police.

Maltese candidate for Court of Auditors handicapped by cocaine affair

Labour Party deputy leader Toni Abela is Malta’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors. Abela prevented two persons involved in a cocaine affair from being investigated by the police, according to the Maltese press.

In a conversation recorded without his knowledge, Abela describes how the president of a Labour Party club came across the club’s barman carving up a brick of cocaine.

The club president panicked, sacked the barman, and said he had disposed of the cocaine. The matter came before Abela, who as party deputy leader, is responsible for the party’s clubs.

“I sacked the president there and then. What could I do?” Abela was heard saying. “Go to the police and get him into trouble? He was the one who disposed of the evidence.” He then says that it was better to hush the matter up, and avoid problems.

The story dates back to 2011. It has been brought up by the Maltese press several times since, but it didn’t influence Abela’s reelection as deputy leader of the Labour Party, one of the two major parties in the island country.

The Labour Party is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES).

Maltese government ‘disappointed’

The Maltese government said it was disappointed by the Budget Committee decision. It thanked the PES, and a Green MEP on the committee for having backed Abela.

“The government is disappointed that there appears to have been someone who worked to harm Dr Abela, a person known for his integrity,” it stated in a press release.

The Nationalist Party said Dr Abela, who was chosen by the prime minister, failed to convincingly answer the questions put to him by MEPs on his experience and expertise.

Polish candidate also bites the dust

Polish candidate Janusz Wojciechowski, an MEP from the ruling party Law and Justice (PIS) was also rejected by the budgetary committee.  Twelve MEPs voted against his appointment, 9 were in favour, and 5 abstained.

Reportedly, the MEPs praised Wojciechowski’s qualifications, but expressed doubts as to his independent judgement.

Wojciechowski was asked about the recent amendments to the law on the Polish constitutional court, and if he thought the government should publish the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on the case. He didn’t answer the question, saying that it was an internal issue for Poland.

Polish state news agency PAP reported issues with Wojciechowski’s travel expenses during his previous term as MEP,  for €4,000 in airline ticket charges. Wojciechowski is reported to have said this was a mistake by his travel agency.

The final decision to appoint members to the Court of Auditors is made by the European Parliament’s plenary, but the negative opinion of the parliamentary committee carries substantial weight.

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