April 18, 2016 / 9:37 PM / in 2 years

Malta government wins confidence vote after Panama papers debate

VALLETTA (Reuters) - The Maltese government comfortably won a confidence vote in the House of Representatives on Monday after 13 hours of non-stop debate over revelations in the Panama Papers.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat makes a press statement outside parliament after defeating a no-confidence motion in his government which was called by the opposition after his failure to sack two high-ranking members of his government who were named in the Panama Papers leak scandal in Valletta, Malta, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The opposition had presented a motion of no confidence in the government after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat failed to remove Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi and his own chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who were found to each have a secret company in Panama and a trust in New Zealand. They were formed after the government took office in 2013.

The Panama Papers, published on April 3, are a set of 11.5 million confidential documents with information on about 214,000 offshore companies compiled by Panamanian lawyers Mossack Fonseca that illustrate how individuals and corporations hide assets from public scrutiny and avoid taxes.

Mizzi insisted in Parliament that he had done nothing wrong and his arrangements were for the management of family assets, although he admitted that choosing Panama “wasn’t the best choice.”

“I regret that the Panama Papers distracted from the government’s successes,” Mizzi said. “Investigations will show I did nothing wrong.”

Muscat said he would base his decisions on facts, but he agreed that there was an issue of political correctness, saying that “doing nothing is not an option”.

He did not say what actions he might take, however.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said there was no logical reason why a minister and a chief of staff would set up a Panama company and a trust in New Zealand and also attempt to set up bank accounts in eight countries. This case, he said, harmed Malta’s reputation and the government’s inaction made a bad situation worse.

Schembri has also denied wrongdoing, saying the arrangements were for the management of assets related to businesses he was involved in before taking up the government post.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna

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