Prime Minister to debate Opposition leader on Xarabank tonight

Joseph Muscat says he will not resign while the inquiry is underway

Dr Muscat during this morning's press conference. Photo: Kurt Sansone

Dr Muscat during this morning's press conference. Photo: Kurt Sansone

Updated 12.05pm - Added PN statement

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat this morning challenged Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to a live televised debate tonight on Xarabank and accused him of trying to save his skin “by hanging my wife, me and my children”.

Reiterating his conviction that claims alleging that his wife owned Panama company Egrant were lies and that he and his family were victims of an attempted frame-up, Dr Muscat said that he would not resign while the magisterial inquiry was underway.

Read: Muscat asks inquiring magistrate to investigate Egrant claims

If the inquiry found that the allegations were true, he said, “I will draw my own political conclusions”.

A general election would be called at the most appropriate time irrespective of what the Opposition leader said, he added.

Earlier today, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addressed a news conference during which he called for the Prime Minister's resignation saying the country was in "an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis".

Read: Simon Busuttil calls for Prime Minister's resignation

“Yesterday was the day of allegations; today is the day of proof,” Dr Muscat told members of the press gathered at Castille. Libel proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia, who first published the allegations on her blog, and PN media, were being filed this morning, he said. The courts have been asked to hear the cases with urgency. 

OPINION: Of levels of proof

Referring to speculation that documents could have been destroyed, Dr Muscat said that money transfers could not be cancelled, as they are registered internationally through electronic systems. The inquiring magistrate had access to all this information, he said. 

Read: Police raid Pilatus Bank offices in Ta' Xbiex

The inquiry, which is being led by duty magistrate Aaron Bugeja, would have to establish if there were any authentic documents showing there was a company or bank accounts in his name, that of his wife or any family member.

It would also have to establish whether any transfers were ever carried out from Azerbaijan or any other place in the world and whether there any money was transferred to his wife’s business partner Michelle Buttigieg, who Ms Caruana Galizia has alleged received a US$400,000 payment from a London-based company owned by the sister of Pilatus Bank chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.

Pilatus Bank has welcomed the inquiry and denied the alleged ties to the Muscat family.

Read: Pilatus Bank denies alleged ties to Muscat family or Panama companies

The Opposition leader had a duty to put forward the proof of what he was alleging, the Prime Minister said, saying Dr Busuttil’s behaviour was damaging Malta’s financial services sector.

Dr Muscat insisted proof of his innocence could be found in his declaration of assets and the fact he had asked for an inquiry with full powers of investigation. 

Busuttil accepts debate challenge

In a statement, the Nationalist Party said its leader Dr Busuttil would gladly debate the Prime Minister on television this evening. 

"About time," the PN said. "The Prime Minister has been dodging a Xarabank debate for three entire years." 

It said Dr Busuttil, who was already scheduled to appear on the Friday night show, would happily postpone the interview to share his time with the Prime Minister.  

"Our country is in the throes of a political and constitutional crisis, with a Prime Minister the subject of a magisterial inquiry," the party said.  

Times of Malta will be live-blogging tonight's debate.


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