UPDATED: The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life states the acceptance of bottles of Chateau Petrus was a “prima facie” breach of the Code of Ethics

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, Dr George Hyzler, has concluded that former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat committed a “prima facie” breach of the Code of Ethics when he accepted a gift of three bottles of Chateau Petrus wine valued at €5,800 from Yorgen Fenech. His report has begun being discussed the Parliamentary Committee for Standards in Public Life that has yet to hear the testimony of Dr Hyzler. Former PM Joseph Muscat has not agreed with the report’s conclusions.

In his concluding summary, the Commissioner stated that Ministers should assure there is no conflict of interest between their public duties and responsibilities and their personal interests. They should not accept gifts or benefit by gifts that may give the impression these will influence their judgement or place them under unnecessary obligations.

The 18-page report with attached documents followed investigations requested by Professor Arnold Cassola with Commissioner Hyzler concluding the gift was of a personal nature and therefore breached the Code of Ethics. This established that a gift of wine cannot be regarded as a gift to the State but a personal gift to Dr Muscat to celebrate his birthday and was therefore highly personal.

In his report Dr Hyzler remarked that Dr Muscat accepted the gift as an individual and not as a Government Leader and therefore was personally obliged to Yorgen Fenech. The report added that the fact that Dr Muscat had not utilised the gift and had left the wine in the Girgenti is irrelevant and does not change matters.

The report was sent to the Parliamentary Committee for Standards in Public Life which during a meeting chaired by the Chamber Speaker Anġlu Farrugia agreed this should be published in its entire form. Dr Hyzler is expected to appear before this Committee later this month.

Minister Edward Zammit Lewis maintained the actions of former Prime Minister Muscat were not of a grievous nature and should not involve any sanctions. However, Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina said this was not a frivolous matter and was not inconsequential.

Posting on Facebook, Dr Muscat maintained that while respecting the role of the Commissioner for Standards, he did not agree with his report and the manner in which this was framed on perceptions. According to Dr Muscat not enough emphasis was made on the exceptional nature of the case because and despite documented threats he had received he had always carried out his duties and responsibilities without fear or favour.

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