These are the main events that took place in February 2016.
The government proposed to completely repeal two articles in the Criminal Code which make it illegal to vilify religion “by words, gestures, written matter, whether printed or not, or pictures or by some other visible means. Another of the amendments proposed was to criminalise revenge porn.
The government in the afternoon said that it had had approved Caroline Farrugia Frendo, who is Speaker Anglu Farrugia’s daughter, and Ingrid Zammit Young to join the benches of the judiciary.
Dr Farrugia Frendo, as it had transpires, was only legally eligible to take up the post some three days before she was approved. Dr Zammit Young’s nomination withdrew her nomination because according to law, if a person has sat on the Employment Commission they must have resigned from their post for at least three years before being eligible for a magisterial appointment.
Twenty-three people were arraigned in connection with the November incident at the PlusOne club in Paceville, in which over 70 people were injured. The accused include three directors and two managers employed by the nightclub.
German MEP and Chair of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Employment and Social Affairs Thomas Handel drew attention to the alleged exploitation of North Korean workers in Malta at Leisure Clothing factory, sending letters to a number of EU agencies.
The Leisure Clothing case was one that shocked the island when the case went before the courts, with allegations of sub-standard working conditions, low wages and misappropriation of wages being made
Parents of students attending San Anton School were incensed at the school authorities after a wall being constructed as part of the extension project collapsed during school hours, luckily injuring no-one but damaging cars belonging to teachers.
The government and church were at loggerheads over the gay conversion therapy bill that seeks to outlaw ‘conversion therapy’, a practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and that is widely acknowledged to be harmful and more-often than not traumatic. The church was accused of equating homosexuality to an illness due to a position paper it penned. It vehemently denied this. The bill was recently made into law, making headlines all over the developed world.
Sparks flew in Parliament when Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil demanded a statement from Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over what he described as the “shocking news” that former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi holds a shell company in Panama and a trust in New Zealand. Blogger and The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia had revealed, one day prior, that the trust set up in New Zealand by Dr Mizzi contains a shell company which has been registered in Panama, a company registered to be a ‘non cooperative jurisdiction’ by the European Commission. These revelations sparked months of heated political debate, with many people – not just the opposition – calling for Dr Mizzi’s resignation.
It later transpired that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri had the exact same financial structure as Dr Mizzi, and that there was a mysterious third company, named Egrant, registered at the same time as Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri’s Panamanian companies. The identity behind the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant is not known.
This scandal took on an international spotlight as a result of millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panama based corporate service provider at the centre of the scandal, leaked to a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists together with Zeitung and a number of other partners exposed how the world’s elite go through expensive and complicated processes to conceal their wealth. While having a company based in a financially secretive jurisdiction like Panama does not necessarily amount to illegalities, the fact that both quantities and sources of wealth is easily concealed provides a framework for wrongdoing to take place. No-portfolio Minister Konrad Mizzi claimed political naivety but insisted that he did not intend to do anything irregular.
Despite being embroiled in this fast-growing scandal, with new information coming to light around every corner, Dr Mizzi received an overwhelming endorsement as the new Labour Party deputy leader, bagging 672 or 96.6% of the 696 valid votes cast. This was later taken from him because of his role in the Panama Papers.
Following a week of rampant speculation, Minister Konrad Mizzi revealed the names of and the dates on which his trust in New Zealand and the shell company held by that trust in Panama were established. From the documentation made available by Dr Mizzi, it transpires that Dr Mizzi became the ultimate beneficial owner of the Panamanian company, named Hearnville Inc., on 2 June 2015, a few weeks before Panama was blacklisted by the European Commission over its financial secrecy. A document dated 26 February 2016 signed by the former owners of the company in question, ATC Administrators Inc., says that between 2 June 2015 and 21 July 2015, “all the shares in the company were held in our name for the exclusive benefit of Mr Konrad Mizzi”. Additional research conducted by this newspaper indeed shows that while Hearnville Inc. had first been incorporated on 9 July 2013, it had at the time been registered by ATC Administrators, which later sold the company in 2015 to the trust held by Dr Mizzi.