VALLETTA, Malta (Guardian) — Malta’s embattled prime minister, Joseph Muscat, is facing a growing rebellion in Brussels, where Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are openly calling for his departure amid a growing corruption scandal involving his wife, a Panamanian shell company and alleged payments from the president of Azerbaijan’s daughter.
The Mediterranean island state’s presidency of the European Union (EU), which began in January, has been rocked by allegations of money laundering and kickbacks. Malta’s spell at the helm of the union has done nothing to airbrush its reputation as a haven for dark money, and with the entire European project now at stake, it is becoming a source of anxiety and embarrassment in Brussels.
The scandal began last year with the publication of the Panama Papers, a leak of 11.5 million documents from the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. In a series of twists that could have been lifted from the pages of a spy thriller, matters came to a head last month.
The owner of a Maltese private bank — who is alleged to have held accounts for shell companies belonging to Muscat’s wife, two of his closest Labour party allies and the Azeri president’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva — was filmed leaving his offices at night, with bags reporters claim contained documents.
A whistleblower from the bank in question, Pilatus, has alleged that police tried to intimidate her and she is being prosecuted following a complaint from her former employer. She was arrested last year, her passports were confiscated, and she says she was refused permission to leave Malta to attend her mother’s funeral.
Now the leader of the opposition claims he has proof that Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, accepted bribes from the sale of Maltese passports to wealthy Russians, with money again routed offshore.