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Electoral Commission seeking legal advice on PN invoices inquiry

Members of the commission objected to an investigation

Questions sent to Chief Electoral Commissioner Joseph Church last week remained unanswered despite a reminder. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Questions sent to Chief Electoral Commissioner Joseph Church last week remained unanswered despite a reminder. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

No decision was taken by the Electoral Commission last Friday on an investigation into claims the Nationalist Party used its media arm to solicit donations.

Sources said some members of the commission objected to an investigation as they argued the watchdog could not act as investigator, judge and jury at the same time.

The Sunday Times of Malta is informed the commission is now seeking legal advice on the matter and this will be discussed at another meeting on Wednesday.

Questions sent to Chief Electoral Commissioner Joseph Church last week remained unanswered despite a reminder.

The case concerns claims made by the db Group, formerly known as the Seabank, that donations to the PN were made in the form of payments against invoices issued by the party’s company, Media.Link.

The hotel group argues it never took out advertising with the PN media, implying the invoices were false. Last year alone, €70,800 was transacted in this way.

The PN has denied the claim, insisting the relationship between Silvio Debono’s companies and Media.Link was of a commercial nature.

Depending on the advice it receives, the Electoral Commission may appoint an external auditor to investigate the invoices and the content they purport to bill.

The law bars donations to the parties above €25,000

The sources said the commission received a formal request from the Labour Party to investigate the claims, which point towards an attempt by the PN to circumvent the law on political party financing. The law bars donations to the parties above €25,000 but does not cover the commercial operations of their companies.

The db Group has said it was asked by top PN officials to cover the wages of the party general secretary and CEO, soon after Simon Busuttil was elected leader.

In an interview today, Dr Busuttil said the impression that the wages of the party general secretary and CEO were paid by a private company was wrong. He produced a copy of a tax form showing how general secretary Rosette Thake was paid by the party and Brian St John, the corporate director, by Media.Link.

However, Dr Busuttil refused to give details of the services listed in the invoices billed to the db Group. He insisted any agreement between Media.Link and the db Group was private.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party yesterday again challenged the PN to publish the invoices as it upped the ante on the Opposition. Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said the payments made by db for services never rendered amounted to a donation and not a commercial transaction, which would make them illegal.

Rebutting, the PN accused the PL of trying to deflect attention from the fact that it had failed to register as a political party with the Electoral Commission.

However the PN insisted that Dr Busuttil spoke out against the “dubious” ITS land transfer deal despite this involving someone who used to donate money to the party. “Simon Busuttil will not be bought,” the PN said.

kurt.sansone@timesofmalta.com

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