19 Aug 2020

On 17 August 2020, Parliament’s Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life met to consider what action to take against former Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat over the Pétrus wines case. This followed a meeting on 22 July 2020 in which the Committee endorsed the conclusions of the Standards Commissioner, who found that Dr Muscat broke the ethical rules concerning acceptance of gifts when he accepted the wines, since he thereby placed himself under an obligation to an individual who had various commercial relationships with the state.

This case concerned a gift of three bottles of wine of the Château Pétrus brand, with an estimated value of €5,800, that were given by entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech to the Hon Dr Joseph Muscat, then Prime Minister, at a reception on the occasion of his birthday in February 2019.

In his report the Commissioner took no account of the criminal charges against Yorgen Fenech, basing himself only on the commercial relations between Mr Fenech and the Maltese government. The Commissioner stated that it was important for ministers to maintain an appropriate social distance from such persons so as to avoid suspicions that these persons were exercising undue influence over government decisions, and the Prime Minister should have shown better judgement when he personally invited Yorgen Fenech to a private and restricted party and accepted gifts from him.

At its meeting of 3 July 2020 the Committee agreed to publish the Commissioner’s report on this case. On 22 July the Committee continued discussing the case, and it unanimously agreed to endorse the Commissioner’s report and to give Dr Muscat an opportunity to present submissions before deciding on further action in terms of article 28 of the Standards in Public Life Act.

On 17 August 2020 the Committee considered a letter from Dr Muscat in which he stated among other things that “I reiterate that I have assumed all my responsibilities”. The Committee agreed to write to Dr Muscat stating that while he had every right to maintain his position, it understood his letter as amounting to an apology in terms of article 28(d)(ii) of the Standards in Public Life Act, and the Committee was therefore declaring the case closed.

The Commissioner’s report on this case can be downloaded from here.