A Swedish MEP deplored what he termed as a “Russian-style” presentation made by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici to the European Parliament’s committee on financial crimes on Monday.
MEP Gunnar Hökmark told the Times of Malta Dr Bonnici’s attempts to deny that there were corruption problems in Malta had damaged the country’s image.
“I was surprised, and a little bit upset, by the fact that he denied everything. That is what they do in Russia. In Russia, they say there are no problems, that they have good systems,” Mr Hökmark said.
The minister spent the one-hour hearing on Monday fending off reports about rampant corruption and institutional failures in Malta. He told MEPs he had total trust in the country’s institutions.
For Mr Hökmark, having a justice minister denying there were problems in the country meant this same minister was part of the problem.
The Swedish MEP, who hails from the EPP political grouping, said that, in a normal situation, a justice minister would express concerns about the issues being raised and vow to address them.
Mr Hökmark said Dr Bonnici’s “damaging presentation” had damaged Malta and lowered the country’s standing in the committee’s perspective.
Socialist MEP Ana Gomes, a vocal critic of the Maltese government, said she was stunned by Dr Bonnici’s ability to hide the reality in Malta and the “cold, smiling way in which he lied through his teeth about investigations in Malta into corruption, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and 17 Black”.
In Russia, they say there are no problems
Ms Gomes said that, prior to the hearing, there might have been the impression that the Justice Minister was trying his best to defend Malta while not being fully in control.
His presentation on Monday gave the impression that, on the contrary, he was fully in control, very knowledgeable about what was going on and using every means to thwart any serious investigation and exposure of what was happening in Malta, Ms Gomes said.
German MEP Sven Giegold, from the European Greens, said Dr Bonnici was weak on all the substance and hid behind secretive magisterial inquiries.
He said shadows still loomed over Malta and, given the evidence in the 17 Black case, the country was not credible as long as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi remained part of the government.
Nationalist MEP David Casa commented that “watching Minister Owen Bonnici attempting to defend the indefensible was painful”. He said the key issue remained that Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi continue to hold public office, “despite the overwhelming evidence of corruption and money laundering against them”.
Mr Casa vowed to continue monitoring the case closely, saying that Malta’s biggest concern at this juncture was that the authorities were “dragging their feet to request and secure evidence from jurisdictions such as the UAE and this with the intention of subsequently claiming that evidence is insufficient for criminal prosecution”.
Labour MEP Miriam Dalli defended Dr Bonnici and accused the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, of “blatantly” using two weights and two measures in its proceedings.
She insisted that on Monday the Justice Minister had “offered answers to all the questions that were posed to him”.
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