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Harming his own party - Denis Tanti

Adrian Delia’s main advantage over his competitors for the position of PN leader was that he had no real prior involvement in the party. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Adrian Delia’s main advantage over his competitors for the position of PN leader was that he had no real prior involvement in the party. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Opposition and Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia was prompt to strip his predecessor Simon Busuttil of his portfolio of Opposition spokeman for good governance and ask him to suspend himself from the party, following the publication of 49 out of 1,500 pages of an inquiry held by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja.

The inquiry had found no documentation linking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife to the now defunct secret offshore shell company Egrant Inc. set up in Panama shortly after Muscat took office in 2013.

Delia followed blindly the advice given to him by Muscat just a few hours earlier during a press conference, giving rise to suspicion of collusion between the two political leaders. 

To justify his action, Delia said Busuttil had repeated allegations of the existence of the alleged link when, according to him, this was not true because no evidence to support its existence had been found by the inquiry. He further accused Busuttil of poor political judgement by making the allegation central to the PN’s electoral campaign, and concluded that in turn, this had led to the party’s loss of the election.

Delia seemed rather keen to rid himself of Busuttil and only sought the opinion of a small group of inner-circle friends and advisors.

 He did not bother to wait for the full report to be published and even failed to consult the party’s parliamentary group before taking his hasty decision. He played right into Muscat’s hands, deepening the existing rift within the party even further with the danger of an eventual split.

In actual fact there was no way that Busuttil or anyone from the Opposition could have ascertained the facts about the allegation against Muscat’s wife. Even the 15-month meticulous magisterial inquiry into the case, carried out with the assistance of local and foreign experts, proved to be inconclusive leaving a number of relevant questions unanswered.

A foremost question concerns the intended ultimate beneficial owner for whom Egrant Inc. was set up. As anticipated, the magistrate was denied information about a bank account claimed to have been held in the United Arab Emirates by Egrant Inc., which information could have led to the discovery of the actual company’s ownership.

What we know for sure is that two similar Panama companies whose ultimate beneficial owners were Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, had been opened concurrently with Egrant Inc. by the same local financial consulting company Nexia BT.

Muscat has demonstrated an inconsistent and hypocritical morality when on one hand he declared that his two close aides had done nothing wrong by opening their Panama companies, and on the other hand he called the alleged link of his wife to a similar company a terrible accusation.

The high level of impunity that Muscat provided to his aides has rendered him complicit in their crimes and given a hefty push to the weakening of the rule of law.

Muscat also failed to act with prudence and responsibility with respect to the judiciary. He exerted inappropriate pressure on the magistrate to speed up the investigation, to the extent of holding him responsible for a Labour Party electoral defeat as a result of the conclusions being delayed until after the election.

Adrian Delia has shown himself to be a political novice. He has failed his test badly causing inconceivable, immeasurable harm to his own party

A justified suspicion was raised that the  Egrant owner could well have been a higher echelon of society than Mizzi and Schembri, possibly Muscat’s wife, given Muscat’s closeness and support to these close aides of his. This suspicion was further fuelled by the fact that the ultimate details of the unidentified beneficial owner under the name Egrant Inc. had been sent by Nexia BT to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca through a Skype voice message to protect his/her identity, instead of in writing according to normal practise.

On his part Busuttil exposed serious suspicions raised by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit of financial crimes committed by high government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister. He took his courageous action in view of the fact that the police had showed reluctance to investigate.

It was Busuttil who presented proof through court testimony that led to the opening of three magisterial inquiries into allegations of corruption involving Mizzi, Schembri and Tonna, among other individuals. Busuttil would have been derelict in his duties had he failed to expose these cases that the police did not act upon.

On his part, Muscat joined the persons alleged to be involved in the corruption in the filing of an appeal against a magistrate’s decision to investigate whether Mizzi and Schembri had breached money laundering laws by opening their Panama companies.

When Busuttil requested Judge Antonio Mizzi to recuse himself from hearing the appeals filed by the Prime Minister and other individuals for very obvious reasons, the Labour Party, through Chris Cardona, criticised him for what it described as an attack on the judiciary. However, the court eventually proved Busuttil right.

There were several leading figures within the PN Parliamentary Group, apart from Busuttil, who had repeated the allegation of the existence of a link between Muscat’s wife and Egrant Inc. One of them was Clyde Puli, who had said in an online posting just two weeks before the election that the owner of Egrant Inc. was in fact the Prime Minister’s wife. Delia invited ridicule when he tried to exonerate Puli on the puerile excuse that he did not have the same available information as Busuttil.

Similarly, Delia adopted double standards when he disregarded the fact that his right-hand man Pierre Portelli, was a main figure mentioned in the inquiry. Delia’s bias is even more evident since the magisterial inquiry depended precisely on the credibility of these declarations. In fact, this key inquiry finding had prompted the police to commence an investigation into the alleged forgery of the documents.

But the greatest absurdity from Delia was when he said that he would be assuming Busuttil’s good governance portfolio himself.

Eleven months ago, Delia’s suitability as PN leader was seriously questioned by an ethics committee that was commissioned by the PN Administrative Council to investigate him and the other party leadership contenders. The committee had concluded that Delia failed to give a satisfactory explanation about his Jersey bank account. Besides, Delia and Cardona were directors of an offshore company which owned residences that operated as brothels.

Unfortunately, the ethics committee was not empowered to recommend action against Delia. In the light of the committee’s conclusions, the Administrative Council made a recommendation to Delia to reconsider his candidacy for party leader, which recommendation he ignored.

Delia also stands accused of being a tax-dodger after signing a promise-of-sale agreement to buy a dilapidated property which stated that there was moveable property worth €15,000 within the same property. This was contradicted by photos of the same property taken by Delia’s own architect that revealed that the property was practically empty.

Delia’s main advantage over his competitors for the position of PN leader was that he had no real prior involvement in the party, and therefore could not be blamed for past blunders that had damaged the party’s credibility. Ironically enough, his lack of political experience was seen as an advantage.

Now, Delia has shown himself to be a political novice. He has failed his test badly causing inconceivable, immeasurable harm to his own party.

Denis Tanti is a former assistant director (industrial and employment relations) in the Ministry for Health.

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