Aquilina lambasts Finance Minister over Silvio Valletta’s FIAU appointment

Updated 08:52 PM
Silvio Valletta
FILE PHOTO: Police Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta addresses a news conference about investigations into the assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, at police headquarters in Floriana, Malta, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina launched a strong condemnation of Finance Minister Edward Scicluna over his decision to appoint former police officer Silvio Valletta – the husband of former minister Justyne Caruana – to the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, insisting that the minister needed to assume political responsibility over his choice.

Caruana, who had been Gozo Minister when Joseph Muscat was prime minister, was reconfirmed to the position by Robert Abela, only to have to resign days later after her husband’s links to Yorgen Fenech – the businessman accused of ordering the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia – surfaced. Valletta was found to have travelled with Fenech on a number of occasions.

Valletta, who had reached the rank of deputy commissioner before retiring from the police force last year, had actually been involved in police investigations into the Caruana Galizia case, before suspending himself after a court ruled that he had a potential conflict of interest in the case. He has insisted that he was unaware of Fenech’s possible involvement when he travelled with him.

But Valletta had also served as the police force’s representative on the FIAU until his retirement, and it is this appointment that led Aquilina to condemn Scicluna.

Why was Valletta chosen above others, MP asks

The MP noted that that the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General, the MFSA chairman and the Central Bank Governor each presenting the Finance Minister with a list of 3 or more nominees for the FIAU board, and that the minister had to appoint one board member from each list.

He said that he had asked Scicluna, in a series of parliamentary questions, to name the nominees which were not appointed to the board, and said that the refusal to answer that on grounds of confidentiality was an unacceptable excuse.

“Publication is important because we need to see whether the minister has made the right choice, whether he made his choice in the interest of the FIAU or of the government,” Aquilina said.

He questioned why out of a presumed list of at least three police officers, the minister chose the one who was married to his colleague to such a sensitive post, and also took the opportunity to condemn Valletta’s involvement in the Caruana Galizia investigation.

“Did we really need the court to make the Police Commissioner realise that the husband of a minister should not be involved in the investigation of a political murder,” he asked.

Going back to Scicluna, he noted that the FIAU was itself investigating a number of politically sensitive cases, specifically citing investigations into Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and his associates.

By choosing someone who had a clear conflict of interest, Aquilina insisted, Scicluna was an accomplice.

“Edward Scicluna isn’t the person who appeared on TV before 2013, the professor who could do nothing wrong… you are an accomplice! You either did these things on your own accord, or you complied when someone asked you to do them,” the MP accused.

He insisted that the minister needed to assume political responsibility, and said that it was best if he owned up to his mistakes on his own accord, “instead of having to go to court and claim you can’t testify so as not to incriminate yourself.”

“What you have done is very serious, whether it was your idea or not,” the MP said. 

Such attacks energise me, minister insists

Scicluna eventually reacted to Aquilina’s claims on Facebook, stressing that he followed the procedure adopted by previous governments when he chose the suitable nominee out of three submitted by the Police Commissioner. He observed that at the time, Caruana was a backbench MP, and not part of Cabinet.

Aquilina, the minister said, apparently expected him to “have the foresight to know, in 2013/14, who this person would go watch a football match with in 2019.”

Scicluna insisted that such attacks actually encouraged him, insisting that the opposition was demoralised each time a rating agency gave Malta a high score.

“These attacks leave me with even more energy to serve Malta and our government,” he said.