Transcripts linking Egrant to my wife are falsified, Muscat tells Busuttil
Xarabank debate saw two political leaders go head-to-head
Transcripts of documents connecting Panama company Egrant to Michelle Muscat contained errors proving they were falsified, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told Opposition leader Simon Busuttil last night.
Speaking during a live debate on TV show Xarabank, Dr Muscat argued that an address and date on transcripts of declarations of trust published by Daphne Caruana Galizia did not tally with facts.
Dr Muscat claimed that Egrant could not have a Maltese address as listed in Ms Caruana Galizia's document transcript, and that the declaration of trust's 2015 date could not be reconciled with the 2013 certificate of ownership Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna possessed.
"This is a certificate showing that Egrant was sold to Brian Tonna in 2013," he said as he held up a paper and faced the camera. "According to Caruana Galizia, these same people who sold it to Brian Tonna in 2013 sold it again to my wife two years later."
Dr Muscat's claim deriding Egrant's address as fake was immediately cast into doubt by Ms Caruana Galizia, who noted that the San Gwann address on the transcript tallied with that provided for Egrant in the ICIJ Panama Papers database.
Barbs, denials, but not much light
The two-hour debate saw Dr Muscat and Dr Busuttil trade barbs, insults and mutual disdain for one another, punctuated by a half-hearted agreement between the two to keep family members out of the political morass "until the general election".
At the end of it all, viewers were left none the wiser about the allegations, with one man strenuously denying them and the other insisting they must be true.
Dr Busuttil hammered home his incredulity at the manner in which the Prime Minister and police force had dallied last night before appointing an investigation, with the risk of evidence having been destroyed in the meantime. Police eventually visited Pilatus Bank's offices at around 9am on Friday morning.
Moderator Peppi Azzopardi pressed the Prime Minister to explain the delay, but Dr Muscat's reply - that he had other engagements and had to speak with his lawyers - came across as half-hearted at best.
As the Prime Minister challenging him to provide evidence for his allegations, Dr Busuttil taunted him that "you cannot be believed because you always lie, so now nobody believes you."
Dr Muscat hit back by arguing that talk of evidence having been destroyed was a red herring.
"You cannot destroy records of an electronic bank transfer. There's a record of such transfers at each step of the transaction," he said.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that Ms Caruana Galizia had gained credibility through her Panama Papers revelations, but argued that she was now riding on the coattails of that success to trick people this time round. "winning the lotto this week doesn't mean you're going to win it the next.
"Winning the lotto this week doesn't mean you're going to win it the next," he said.
The below is a transcript of our live blog of the event.
Live coverage: Muscat and Busuttil go head-to-headThe event has now ended, here is a transcript of the live coverage.
- 20:41 pm
Good evening, and welcome to our live blog of tonight's impromptu debate. Simon Busuttil and Joseph Muscat - never the best of friends - will bare their teeth on Friday night TV staple Xarabank.
No chance of a protest streaker, though - producers have decided to do away with an audience for tonight's show.
- 20:47 pm
It's been a tumultuous 24 hours for Malta. We've had money laundering claims, a magisterial inquiry into a Prime Minister, images of bank officials stealing away late at night, angry denials, libel suits, journalists manhandled and a fenkata so good it couldn't be put off.
And just minutes before the debate is due to start, Daphne Caruana Galizia publishes more allegations about links between Joseph Muscat's wife Michelle and Panama company Egrant.
- 20:52 pm
With no audience allowed in the debate hall, protesters have been forced to mill around outside the entrance. They're carrying placards with words such as 'justice' and 'Pilate' (as in Pontius). And singing PN chants. Life is never too serious for a good old political battle cry.
- 21:01 pm
Peppi Azzopardi will toss in a couple of questions to kick-start the debate, but after that it'll be pretty much up to the two leaders to set the pace.
We'll be keeping an eye out for your comments and observations as the debate progresses - send them to [email protected] or tweet me on @bertu123.
- 21:06 pm
Trivia time: The last time Xarabank aired without an audience present was in the run-up to the 2013 general election. Simon Busuttil was there as PN deputy leader, and he was facing then-PL deputy Anglu Farrugia. That one had turned out to be pretty one-sided. Will tonight be different?
- 21:09 pm
I've been told social media is buzzing with news about Daphne Caruana Galizia's latest allegations. The TL;DR version - the Pilatus Bank safe contained two declarations of trust with both 'Egrant' and 'Ms Michelle Muscat nee Tanti' on them.
And we're off! Busuttil asked why he is believing allegations and what proof he has to back them.
- 21:13 pm
Busuttil: The Prime Minister can't remain in his place with this sort of investigation dangling over his head. Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna get a mention. "He's turned us into a mafia film," he says.
- 21:15 pm
It's the Prime Minister's turn: why did he take so long to call for an investigation? Aren't people right to be suspicious, Peppi asks.
"The Opposition leader wasted four minutes and didn't offer up a shred of proof," he says. He says this isn't a question of destroying evidence, since electronic bank transfer records cannot be shredded.
- 21:18 pm
Both sidestepped their opening questions. Their advisers will be clenching their fists.
Busuttil has now held up a screengrab of the briefcases carried out of Pilatus Bank last night. The bank said its chairman had just landed in Malta from Washington DC, but Busuttil clearly isn't buying that.
The PN leader expresses disbelief at the police commissioner's inaction.
- 21:23 pm
Muscat goes on the attack. "Perhaps the briefcases contained invoices from db (group). Somehow, I don't think that tactic is going to work tonight.
He then reiterates his point that electronic bank transfers "are not carried in briefcases".
"You've spent 7 minutes talking. Give me a single bit of proof."
- 21:24 pm
Peppi pushes him - why did he take so long to launch an investigation?
Muscat says something about being at a power station event and launching an investigation after taking legal advice. A bit 'dog ate my homework', truth be told.
- 21:27 pm
Busuttil is implying Pilatus Bank is, erm, a bit dodgy. "They didn't go to HSBC, BOV or APS," he says.
He says Muscat is a smooth talker - "I remember you lying about the EU" - but he won't be fooled. "We don't believe you because we know you," he says.
- 21:31 pm
Muscat suggests Busuttil speaks with MFSA chairman Joe Bannister. "I trust you have faith in him," he says. "Ask him if I ever interfered in the issuing of any licence." We haven't heard a peep from the financial regulator so far.
"Does Keith Schembri have an account at Pilatus Bank?" asks Busuttil.
"How should I know, I'm not his accountant. What accounts does your assistant have?" Muscat shoots back.
- 21:36 pm
Ad break, and it's the most informative bit so far. Local advertising has come on in leaps and bounds.
Busuttil has provided no proof, and Muscat has failed to give a convincing explanation as to why he fudged and delayed the inquiry request.
- 21:41 pm
Muscat is asked why he went to Azerbaijan without the media. "Because we were changing the press accreditation system," he says. "I don't think the Opposition Leader takes the media with him every time he goes to Brussels."
Muscat asks Busuttil if he believes the declarations of trust Daphne Caruana Galizia has published on her site.
The PN leader says the PM has become the boy who cries wolf. "You cannot be believed because you always lie, so now nobody believes you." Money laundering carries an 18-year prison sentence, he says.
- 21:44 pm
Fireworks! Muscat notes that Busuttil hasn't said whether he believes Daphne Caruana Galizia's uploaded post.
"Whoever falsified this document made two massive mistakes," he says.
"Egrant has an address listed in San Gwann. It is a Panama company. No Panama company can have an address in San Gwann," he says.
Now the PM holds up a paper. "This is a certificate showing that Egrant was sold to Brian Tonna in 2013. According to Caruana Galizia, these same people who sold it to Brian Tonna in 2013 sold it again to my wife two years later."
- 21:47 pm
The PM's claims seem to have caught Busuttil by surprise. "Blaming other people won't wash," he says. "You held an inquiry to investigate my driver. But you couldn't do the same for Konrad Mizzi?"
- 21:50 pm
Now both men have basically figured 'sod it' and gone for the ad hominem. One is "a liar". The other is "desperate".
Busuttil tells Peppi he can't comment on documents he's barely seen, and follows it up with quite the statement: "Whether Egrant is his or his wife's has almost become a secondary matter." Really.
- 21:54 pm
Muscat hints that he's got a surprise up his sleeve for Busuttil. "It will come in due time but it will be political, not personal," he says.
The PM says his rival "doesn't know where to draw the line, perhaps because he's desperate for power...to lie about my wife and children is not acceptable."
Second ad break.
- 22:00 pm
Round 1 went to a feisty Busuttil, with a mealy-mouthed Muscat struggling to explain why he dallied so long to call an inquiry yesterday, when he's usually up for doing so at the drop of a hat.
Round 2 went the other way. Muscat's claims about falsified documents seemed to rattle Busuttil and put some wind in the Prime Minister's sails.
Daphne Caruana Galizia has already replied to one of the PM's arguments, though. The Prime Minister "knows full well that the San Gwann office address is that of Nexia BT, and at the time also Mossack Fonseca Malta. The address given for Egrant Inc is at Brian Tonna’s office," she writes.
- 22:07 pm
Busuttil says the PM is a hypocrite, and reveals that he had asked Muscat to tell his aide Glenn Bedingfield to lay off attacking his partner.
Muscat offers his rival a pact: leave families out of debate until the general election. Busuttil angrily says he's never involved them, and then the two (half) shake hands.
Doesn't seem like much of a pact though. Muscat immediately goes on to say his rival "will hide behind Daphne Caruana Galizia". Was that the shortest-lived pact in political history?
- 22:12 pm
Muscat is calling his rival a crybaby. "When things go your way, you're full of praise. When they don't, you attack."
Ahh, sneaky stump speeches. Both manage to seamlessly slip from outrage and attacks to impromptu 30-second bits about their respective credentials. One talks about the elderly, the other about out-of-stock medicines.
- 22:15 pm
Third ad break. I take back everything I said previously about Maltese ads having improved. This one looks like it was cobbled together with sticky tape and a piece of cardboard they found down the back of the sofa.
- 22:26 pm
Muscat says Caruana Galizia is trying to ride the credibility she gained with the Panama Papers scandal ("and she did gain credibility") to trick people this time round. He draws an analogy with lotto. "Winning this week doesn't mean you're going to win the next".
The PM's turn to call his rival a hypocrite. If a former PL candidate cannot lead an inquiry (into alleged drug trafficking) then how can a former PN candidate rule on a case about parliamentary seats, he asks.
- 22:33 pm
Busuttil: "This is a completely falsified investigation," he says. Michelle Muscat's name never appeared in the Panama Papers because Mossack Fonseca were given the name of the mysterious third person over Skype, he says, reading from that now infamous leaked email.
The two men are now arguing over the inquiry into alleged ministerial interference into a drug trafficking investigation. Perhaps next time round we can all volunteer conversation topics for when they start running out of steam.
- 22:37 pm
Muscat earlier said that the text published by Caruana Galizia was falsified because no company in Panama could have a Maltese address. But a look at the ICIJ Panama Papers database suggests otherwise, she points out. Screenshot in a minute.
- 22:40 pm
We've uploaded a screenshot from the ICIJ Panama Papers database. Egrant's listed address is in San Gwann - scroll to the right of the main article photo to see it.
- 22:42 pm
Elocution tips from @aidanmsa: 'PM is a desperate schmoozer but Simon tries too hard to be dramatic with his switching to the low, slow voice.'
Personally, I can't stand it when they both start speaking...slowly...to...make...sure...we...simpletons...understand.
- 22:49 pm
Busuttil uses his closing statement to appeal to people's sense of outrage and urges them join Sunday's protest against corruption, But he's got two extra minutes, so uses them to ask Muscat if and how he knows the chairman of Pilatus Bank.
Muscat: Yes, I know the chairman of the bank as I know the chairmen of practically every bank on the island. Instead of proof, you make allegations.
And after his own sales pitch to match Busuttil's (in a nutshell: we've done awesome things, come to my rally, not his) it's all over.
- 23:00 pm
So what did we (tangibly) learn?
- Muscat is insisting any documentation produced by Ms Caruana Galizia is/will be false. But at least one of his claims in this regard (concerning Egrant's San Gwann address) would appear to be disproved by the ICIJ's Panama Papers database. And his explanation about yesterday's inquiry fiasco was, to be blunt, a shambles.
- Busuttil has no hard evidence, and is probably hitting the refresh button on Ms Caruana Galizia's blog as often as everyone else
- The two men don't really like each other very much
- And that's about it. Hey, at least we all saved on the beer money.
That's it for this live blog. Thanks for tagging along, and have a good night.