In court on Thursday, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi’s lawyer described questions about 17 Black and Macbridge, two secret Panamanian companies he is linked to, as “a fishing expedition with large trawlers.”
The minister was grilled on the witness stand by lawyer Peter Fenech, who is appearing as defence counsel to the estate of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a libel case filed by the minister.
17 Black and Macbridge were identified in a leaked e-mail as two sources of income for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate, which were set up by OPM consultants Nexia BT for Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Mizzi, who insisted in court that he had no other companies or trusts abroad, said he acquired the company Hearneville in June/July 2015 and that it was nowhere close to the five days after 2013 elections as had been alleged.
Fenech reminded Mizzi that under their code of ethics, ministers are prohibited from doing private work. “Why did you open the company?” asked the lawyer.
It was opened as a family investment, for Rotura Trust, the minister replied, parrying questions as to why it was not opened in Malta on to Nexia BT, who had advised him to open a New Zealand trust.
Asked about the ownership of the secret companies 17 Black and Macbridge, the minister denied all knowledge. “I don’t know. I have no relation with whoever they belong to.”
His lawyer, Aron Mifsud Bonnici, described the lawyer’s questions as a fishing expedition, “with large trawlers”.
Fenech said the companies had been opened just five days after the 2013 general election.
“Were it not for the Panama Papers, we’d know nothing,” Fenech said, accusingly.
Mizzi denied this, saying the first time he saw the names of the companies was on blog posts before the 2017 elections. He had asked Nexia BT about the companies and was told not to worry by Brian Tonna. “Don’t worry. Nothing to do with you,” Tonna had said.
The case continues on March 7 when Nexia BT’s Carl Cini will testify.
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