Bedingfield accuses Standards Commissioner of conflict of interest on Pétrus inquiry

Luke Zerafa

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Government whip Glenn Bedingfield lashed out at Standards Commissioner George Hyzler over his investigation into the expensive gifts which Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech gave to former PM Joseph Muscat on his birthday, accusing him of a blatant conflict of interest.

The conflict of interest, according to Bedingfield, stems from a family link to the Fenech defence team. However, the MP wrongly claimed that Hyzler’s wife – Giannella de Marco – forms part of the team. In fact, it is her son by a previous marriage, Gianluca Caruana Curran, who is representing Fenech.

The MP questioned what information de Marco was privy to, and insisted that “standards in public life should count for everyone, not just one side.”

Bedingfield also lamented that while potential conflicts of interest involving the government were constantly being flagged, those involving the opposition were conveniently ignored, noting that Hyzler was PN MP Mario de Marco’s brother-in-law.

In his investigation, Hyzler concluded that there appeared to be a breach of ethics on behalf of Muscat when he accepted three Pétrus wine bottles from Fenech, worth some €5,800. Hyzler dismissed Muscat’s argument that the gift was not a personal one given the personal nature of the gift: one of the bottles is a 1974 vintage – the year of Muscat’s birth – while the other two date back to the year his twin daughters were born.

Uproar over ‘family jamboree’ comment

Bedingfield was speaking during debate on a proposed constitutional amendment on the way members of the judiciary are appointed. The opposition has expressed its intention to vote against the bill over the proposed method through which the Chief Justice is appointed: though a two-thirds parliamentary majority is required, an absolute majority of MPs would be enough after two unsuccessful votes.

He flagged another case of past potential conflict of interest, leading to a shouting match with PN MP Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

Bedingfield referred to a 2008 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned an “all-in-the-family jamboree” in a case where one of the parties was represented by Mifsud Bonnici and his father Ugo. At the time, Mifsud Bonnici’s uncle, Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici, was Chief Justice, presiding over the Court of Appeal.

The insinuations did not sit well with the PN MP, who shouted that Bedingfield was spewing nonsense and that he would not take the claims sitting down.

This heated exchange led to an exasperated response from deputy speaker Claudette Buttigieg, who already had to ask MPs to remain silent on a number of occasions during Bedingfield’s speech.

“And we were doing so well,” she lamented wearily.