MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | Gonzi mum on Mistra

NEWS | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Gonzi mum on Mistra

Matthew Vella

Lawrence Gonzi has said he will not be commenting any further on the Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando case, after the Nationalist MP claimed he had informed the Nationalist Party (PN) of the facts concerning his involvement in the Mistra deal – currently under police investigation over allegations that Pullicino Orlando exerted his influence on the Malta Environmental and Planning Authority to issue a permit for the construction of a disco on his land in the protected valley.
His statement has opened up the Prime Minister and PN secretary-general Joe Saliba to claims that they both knew that Pullicino Orlando was not saying the truth when, during the last week of the electoral campaign in March, the MP denied knowledge of the Mistra disco project.
He was later exposed when a private lease agreement between the MP and lessee Domenic Micallef showed that the two had negotiated an arrangement for the lease of the Mistra land and its development into a disco.
Gonzi and Saliba yesterday told MaltaToday they had already commented in public on the case and would not be commenting any further.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary even turned down a request for comment to Gonzi, saying the matter concerned the Nationalist Party only.
But neither the party nor the Prime Minister have ever denied the claims by Pullicino Orlando that he had informed them of his involvement in the Mistra deal when Labour revealed the embarrassing details of the case.
So far, Gonzi has not answered as to what he knew between Monday 3 March, when Pullicino Orlando presented himself at the PBS studios to confront Labour leader Alfred Sant. and Thursday 7 March: the last day of the election campaign when Sant first publicised the lease contract proving Pullicino Orlando’s knowledge and consent to the Mistra disco.
Sources told MaltaToday Gonzi was still unaware of the damning contract when Pullicino Orlando was supplied with a "temporary" press card to pass for a journalist at the PBS studios, in order to face Sant in a press conference organised by the Broadcasting Authority.
It was after the PBS incident that the PN further questioned Pullicino Orlando on the details of the case, and Pullicino Orlando made no further public appearances during election week.
Although Pullicino Orlando was still denying any knowledge of the disco project in public, the PN never stopped the MP from contesting the general elections – despite being belied by the publication of the Mistra lease agreement on 6 March.
But Sant’s unexpected last-minute revelation, made during the final televised debate before the day of reflection, still sent shockwaves through the PN – albeit too late to leave an effect on the general public.
The revelation was worrying enough for Gonzi to warn Pullicino Orlando that he would be blamed if the PN loses the general elections.
Although costing it several thousands of votes at the eleventh hour, the PN appeared by Pullicino Orlando’s side, portraying him as a victim of Sant’s mudslinging.
The government has so far “condemned” Labour for “trying to influence the police investigations on the Mistra case through its statements and the media” – after the MLP asked the Prime Minister to explain what he knew of the Mistra case.
The government accused Labour of interfering in the police investigations for “political purposes or ulterior motives” and said Gonzi would not comment until the investigations are over.

Timeline of deceit
30 February – With speculation rife over a Labour ‘bombshell’ that will expose new allegations of corruption, Labour leader Alfred Sant summons the press to the MEPA offices. Surprisingly Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando presents himself at the press conference but Sant says nothing of the case.
1 March – Sant holds his damning press conference in Mistra, right next to Pullicino Orlando’s land, to reveal that a permit had been issued by MEPA for the construction of a mega-disco in the protected valley, right on the MP’s land. Pullicino Orlando arrives soon after Sant leaves, and categorically denies knowing anything about the project or the lessee of his own land. He retaliates to Sant’s allegations, alleging that Labour deputy leader Charles Mangion and MP Karmenu Vella failed to declare earnings from apartments rented out to Malta Freeport.
2 March – On Sunday, Pullicino Orlando presents himself at a party activity in Mosta, where he openly cries and then flies into rage, accusing Alfred Sant of mudslinging.
3 March – Pullicino Orlando, supplied with a ‘temporary’ press card by the Department of Information, is fielded as a PN journalist to face Sant at the BA press conference. Sant leaves the PBS studios as the MP refuses to budge. After the PBS ruckus, Pullicino Orlando never made another public appearance again.
6 March – On Thursday evening at the PBS debate between Gonzi and Sant, the Labour leader discloses the Mistra lease agreement, the final nail in the coffin that proves Pullicino Orlando’s direct involvement in the case. But the evening broadcast is not seen by party supporters out at the mass meetings; while the day after is the day of reflection, when no political messages can be issued. Labour’s coup is too late in the day to create its desired effect.

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