Maltese journalists and bloggers have found that the only minister from an EU member state identified in the Panama papers of clients of tax evasion schemes is Malta’s Health and Energy Minister, Konrad Mizzi.
News of Mizzi owning an offshore company was out before the Panama Papers were published on Monday (4 April).
Mizzi is replacing Toni Abela as deputy leader of Labour, the party of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Abela was the government’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors, but was rejected by the European Parliament over doubts about a past affair involving cocaine.
Mizzi has been at the centre of a controversy in recent weeks, after it was revealed that he had purchased Hearnville, a company in Panama with a troubled history. The firm was later transferred to a New Zealand-based trust.
Two weeks ago, The Malta Independent reported that Mizzi’s Panamanian company and New Zealand trust were both set up on the same day that former Delimara power station consortium partner Gasol sold its shares in the station and earned tens of millions of euros.
Blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, had set up the same structure as Mizzi.
The opposition has been calling for their resignation ever since. Later in February, following media reports, Mizzi announced he would close his Panama company in the interest of transparency.
On Monday, Malta‘s opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that failure to sack Mizzi and Schembri would leave the prime minister with no choice but to step down himself.
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici defended Konrad Mizzi’s actions in the ongoing Panama controversy, saying that he was convinced that the health and energy minister did not intend to break the law.
Describing Dr Mizzi’s actions as politically naive, Bonnici said that Mizzi declared all his assets in his (unpublished) declaration of assets.
Asked whether he had seen the actual declaration, Bonnici said that he had not.
He also said that Mizzi’s set-up in Panama and New Zealand was justified since he is married to a Chinese woman and owns property abroad.
Asked how he justified the set-up of Schembri, Bonnici said that he was a successful businessman and he has every right to decide how to manage his estate.
Muscat said that Konrad Mizzi’s bid to open a bank account in Dubai and Panama were standard enquiries, more than formal attempts.
Pressed whether he would be willing to accept the resignations of Mizzi and Schembri, Muscat said that a decision will be made once independent audits are concluded.