Konrad Mizzi — the only sitting minister in Europe to be named in the Panama Papers scandal last year — attended a hearing in the European Parliament Wednesday to discuss the energy priorities of the Maltese rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
In April, the Maltese press reported that Mizzi, a senior minister and close ally of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, had opened offshore companies and trusts in New Zealand and Panama through Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the scandal. His financial advisor also attempted to open a bank account into which at least €1 million was expected to be deposited each year — even though his ministerial salary is only a fraction of that.
The opposition has alleged that Mizzi took kickbacks from companies involved in privatization deals involving several hospitals and the island’s power station.
At a press conference earlier in January, Muscat defended Mizzi: “He didn’t do anything illegal but I think that he was politically insensitive,” Muscat said, adding that a government audit into Mizzi’s tax affairs would be “out soon.”
Muscat also said that Mizzi had been taken off the energy portfolio when the scandal broke but despite this, Mizzi will chair Council gatherings of energy ministers over the next six months and on Wednesday he attended the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee hearing to discuss energy policy.
“I find it almost surreal that the only sitting EU minister to be exposed by the Panama Papers as having secret financial setups across the world appears in front of us as if nothing has happened,” said Roberta Metsola, a member of Malta’s opposition Nationalist party, Who demanded answers about why he set up the offshore structures.
Mizzi rejected suggestions of any wrongdoing, saying that he had done nothing wrong and that his “financial affairs have been very clear throughout.”
In a separate hearing at the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Thursday, chairwoman Marita Ulvskog — an MEP in the same political group as Mizzi — asked MEPs not to ask the Maltese ministers in attendance about the Panama Papers scandal as the ministers – Evarist Bartolo, Helena Dalli and Michael Farrugia – were there to discuss European legislation on employment law and social policy, she said.
However, this didn’t stop the subject from coming up.
Czech liberal MEP Martina Dlabajová asked the ministers about their decision to back Mizzi in a vote of no confidence held last year after the scandal broke, while Sofia Ribeiro, a center-right MEP from Portugal, pointed out that the hearings in the Parliament “have so far been overshadowed by questions about corruption in Malta.”