Tonio Borg hits back over Kazakh allegations

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EXCLUSIVE / Tonio Borg, the replacement candidate for John Dalli as Malta's EU commissioner in Brussels, has denounced attacks against him as "gross calumny and lies" ahead of a European Parliament confirmation hearing next Tuesday. German lawyers and politicians have piled pressure on Borg ahead of the hearing. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The man Malta has nominated to replace ousted Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli has hit back over accusations that he helped a wealthy Kazakh couple obtain a residency permit in Malta while he was Foreign Minister.

Borg is expected to face questions at an EU Parliament hearing on 13 November over the role he played in granting Maltese residency permits to the Kazakh couple who face serious criminal allegations.

German politicians, including Elmar Brok, a Christian Democrat MEP, have requested clarification from Borg over claims that he helped the couple evade criminal prosecution by granting them permanent residency permits in Malta.

>> Read: Malta's choice for Commission faces grilling over Kazakh connection

Borg disputes any allegations of wrongdoing and described the criticism against him as "gross calumny and lies", adding he was "very very hurt" by the allegations, reported.

Resorting to such an attack before his Parliament hearing was "really scraping the barrel", Borg said, adding that he had not been asked for help in granting the residence permit.

Kazakh connection

European judicial authorities have been seeking clarifications over Rakhat Aliyev for a long time, German lawyers say.

Aliyev, a wealthy former ambassador of Kazakhstan, is accused of torture, abuse, bribery and money laundering, and has even been linked to a double murder case. He lives in Malta under the name of his wife, a former embassy worker in Kazakhstan who holds Austrian citizenship.

Lothar de Maizière, the last and only premier of the German Democratic Republic to be democratically elected, represents alleged victims of torture by Rakhat Aliyev.

Speaking to EURACTIV Germany, he described the Maltese government’s conduct as “scandalous”.

De Maizière claims the circumstances under which Aliyev procured indefinite leave to remain in Malta go unexplained. He received the residency permit despite objections from the police, who cited an Interpol alert.

In Malta, Borg and his spokesman stressed that they had never met Aliyev or his lawyer Pio Valletta. However, neither gave an answer as to why Aliyev was able to secure indefinite leave to remain in the country.

'Negligent investigation'

The Kazakh millionaire's residency permit is at the heart of the accusations made by de Maizière.

The German lawyer says he is outraged at the way the Maltese government deals with the wealthy facing charges of human rights abuses, allowing them to use the island state as a safe haven. He feels that Malta has deceived him.

"Six months ago I went to Malta myself to protest about the negligent way this was investigated," he told EURACTIV Germany. "At the time I was told that the Maltese Attorney General's office would deal with the Aliyev case. However, there is no sign of this happening so far."

"Practically nothing has been done in Malta," the lawyer added, criticising the inactivity of the authorities in the small EU state.

Furthermore, he said officials informed him that Aliyev was not staying in Malta at all, despite the fact that the Kazakh had been questioned by an Austrian public prosecutor at the very same time, in the presence of a Maltese law enforcement official.

"That should give them pause for thought," said de Maizière, referring to Borg's hearing in the European Parliament.

To de Maizière, the case extends beyond Borg. He believes that even a head of government cannot disregard these accusations and that after Dalli was forced to resign as EU commissioner amid allegations of corruption, Malta should avoid sending another potentially problematic commissioner to Brussels.

"If Aliyev had simply forged money, he would be prosecuted straight away," said de Maizière. "But such serious cases of human rights violations attract no investigation."

He considers this to be "scandalous and extremely unjust". He said the EU cannot be seen to allow people who violate human rights to travel from one EU country to another with ease and impunity, less still well-known millionaires.

Several questions that EURACTIV Germany has sent to the Maltese foreign ministry have remained unanswered.

In the wake of the most recent accusations, the ministry denies ever having had any dealings with EURACTIV Germany, despite e-mails sent asking questions about Aliyev's residency status.

Disputed lawyer's fees

The complications in procuring the residency permit were reflected in the exorbitant invoice from Aliyev's then lawyer, Pio Valletta. According to the invoice, the law firm's work to procure the residence permit cost €150,000 – as much as a small terraced house.

This emerged as a result of civil action between the Valetta and the Aliyev couple (now called Shoraz), and became the focus of intense political interest when Valletta named prominent people as witnesses – Borg, his spokesman Melvyn Mangion, along with another ministerial colleague, Carm Mifsud Bonnici, and police Commissioner Andrew Seychell.

According to Maltese newspapers, Aliyev benefited from special rules for foreigners who acquire property in Malta and are granted generous tax breaks.

How it is that Aliyev was granted the right to reside in Malta, despite numerous investigations in other EU states, the Interpol alert and the fact that the police denied his residency application, is a question which senior ministers, most notably the foreign minister, have so far failed to answer.

John Dalli resigned as the EU's commissioner for health and consumer protection after an investigation connected him with an attempt to influence EU tobacco legislation.

Dalli quit during a meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on 16 October after the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, linked him to Maltese entrepreneur Silvio Zammit.

Zammit is alleged to have asked snuff giant Swedish Match for €60 million in return for persuading Dalli to change the EU's draft tobacco directive.

The nomination of Tonio Borg, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Malta, to succeed him must be approved by the European Parliament after a confirmation hearing.

  • 13 Nov. 2012: Hearing of Tonio Borg in the European Parliament.

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