Updated 3.58pm

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said today he has not offered to resign because he does not feel he has done anything wrong in the way he handled corruption claims by the former chief executive of the Foundation for Tomorrow's Schools.

However, he admitted to reporters this morning that he was first informed of corruption allegations by his canvasser Edward Caruana in April, but did not take action because he had no evidence. Over the weekend Mr Bartolo had said he first learned of the allegations in August.

The PN immediately repeated its call for Mr Bartolo to resign, saying he had been caught in a lie.  By the minister's own yardstick, there should not be a law for the gods and a law for the animals, the PN said.

It said that the minister's only consolation is that after the Panama Papers scandal, the Prime Minister had lost his moral authority to sack him.

Philip Rizzo stepped down from the FTS after making the corruption claims public. The Opposition leader also called for Mr Bartolo's resignation yesterday, saying he should practice what he preaches after not having taken effective action over the claims.

In a subsequent statement issued by his ministry, Minister Bartolo again denied accusations that he had done nothing about the claims or urged others not to report them.  

Mr Rizzo claimed corruption by Mr Caruana in the granting of direct orders. The official has been transferred from the ministry and an investigation is under way.

Former FTS chief executive Philip Rizzo.Former FTS chief executive Philip Rizzo.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Bartolo said Mr Rizzo was acting like a "knight in shining armour" when he was actually "a capricious prima donna" who was twisting the facts as they suited him to appear good while undermining those who did not obey him.

The minister said while Mr Rizzo was giving the impression he had left FTS because of corruption allegations, on October 23 he sent him a message saying he would leave unless the chairman was removed because of interference even in issues such as office cleaning times.

Citing family reasons, the woman who cleaned the offices wanted to work between 6am and 2pm but Mr Rizzo disagreed while the chairman agreed.

Mr Rizzo told the minister to dismiss the chairman whose nomination he had himself proposed.  

Mr Bartolo said he had told Mr Rizzo he would not remove the chairman on his orders.   

Mr Rizzo is challenging the minister to sue him over his allegations that he had attempted to dissuade him from formally reporting claims of fraud and corruption against his canvasser.

He also suggested the minister takes a close look at his personal Hotmail account before making any further statements.

The challenge came as Mr Bartolo continued to insist Mr Rizzo was lying and that it was he who alerted the police right away about the reports of fraud. He added he had told Mr Rizzo to do likewise with any information he had.

In a reaction today, Mr Bartolo told reporters he had not decided yet whether to sue Mr Rizzo.

Pressed on whether he knew about Mr Caruana's wrongdoing for a long time, Mr Bartolo admitted he was informed by Mr Rizzo in April but he wanted to have the evidence.

He said that as soon as evidence arrived in September he immediately took the necessary steps to inform the police and transfer Mr Caruana.  

Mr Rizzo's claims of corruption and fraud by Mr Caruana, a former FTS employee, were passed on to the police and the Permanent Commission against Corruption. The Internal Audit and Investigations Department, an independent audit government agency, is also conducting its own investigation.

Mr Caruana, who was appointed at the FTS following Labour's return to power in March 2013 by Mr Bartolo as a person of trust, is the brother of the Education Ministry’s permanent secretary, Joseph Caruana.

In a damning resignation letter published late on Friday, Mr Rizzo accused Mr Bartolo of not telling the truth, knowing about wrongdoing by his person of trust for a long time and trying to dissuade him from taking it further.

“[Mr Bartolo] has known the true reasons since the last week of April 2016, and he repeatedly attempted to dissuade me from formalising my discovery of serious multiple wrongdoings (committed primarily by a member of your own family) until the last day of August 2016,” Mr Rizzo said in his resignation letter to the permanent secretary.

Mr Bartolo has denied that he had attempted to cover up for his canvasser on the Rabat constituency.

Meanwhile, in an e-mail sent to all staff on Saturday afternoon, Foundation chairman Emanuel Camilleri ordered the closure of any e-mail accounts and any other access of people who resigned from the FTS or who were seconded or transferred to other entities.

Muscat stands by Bartolo

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is standing by Mr Bartolo, insisting e-mails implying the minister had failed to take action on corruption allegations were being quoted selectively.

The Prime Minister told journalists this morning Mr Bartolo enjoyed his full trust.
“Evarist Bartolo gave me a convincing assessment and I have full confidence in him,” Dr Muscat said.

Dr Muscat said he still regarded Mr Rizzo as a friend - the former CEO had appeared alongside him during the electoral campaign.

“In no way am I passing judgement on Mr Rizzo. He is one with strong opinions and remains a personal friend but it appears that e-mails have been quoted selectively,” Dr Muscat said.
 

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