UPDATED: Malta News Briefing – Tuesday 23 February 2021

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Updated 1745- News portal briefing

Times of Malta reports that the COVID-19 pandemic cost the Maltese government an estimated €900 million last year and the deficit for last year is therefore projected to be higher than 9.4%, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana told parliament on Tuesday.

MaltaToday reports that The Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has expressed reservation regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it supposedly less effective than other brands such as Pfizer.

Newsbook reports that Finance Minister Clyde Caruana confirmed that he sent the state aid plan for Air Malta drawn up under Economy Minister Silvio Schembri back to the drawing board, with the original plan apparently deemed unsatisfactory by the European Commission.

TVM reports that entrepreneurs have been complaining of exaggerated time on opening of new bank accounts

Updated 1455 – Three men arrested on alleged supply of Caruana Galizia bomb

Three men suspected of involvement in supplying the bomb used to assassinate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have been arrested, The Times of Malta reports. Brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, and their associate Jamie Vella were arrested during a police operation carried out this morning. 

Updated 1345 – Il-Koħħu pleads guilty of Caruana Galizia murder

Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, has pleaded guilty to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Muscat informed the Court this morning that he was switching his plea to guilty, in what could be a crucial turning point for the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s 2017 assassination.  

Last week, Muscat’s lawyer informed the Court of Criminal Appeal that he was withdrawing his appeal against a court judgment dismissing his 118 preliminary pleas.

Updated 1255

Covid-19 update
The Health Department reported 221 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours,
with 191 recovering. The number of active cases has reached 2,500. 3,274 swab tests were
carried out in the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 has reached 306.

Updated 0825 – Newspaper Review

The Times quotes the president of the Gozo regional council, Samuel Azzopardi, who said that the Planning Authority has ignored a plea endorsed by all the island’s mayors raising concerns about unsustainable development.

L-Orizzont says that the government invested €7 million in embellishment works on social housing units in the last three years. Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes said that 50 residential blocks have been earmarked for maintenance in the coming months.

The Independent quotes Architects’ Chamber president, Andre Pizzuto, who warned that reforms proposed in the construction Act overlook the advice of industry experts. Pizzuto said that the government did not sufficiently consult the Chamber on the new Bill.

In-Nazzjon reports the resignation of two OPM officials following internal disagreements in recent weeks. Deputy communications director Nigel Vella and head of customer care Sandro Craus joined Castille during the Muscat administration.

The Independent speaks to Opposition MP Karol Aquilina who said that government members of the parliamentary ethics committee are delaying discussion of a report by the Standards Commissioner about the locking up of journalists in Castille in November 2019.

L-Orizzont quotes a study by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights which found that Malta had the second-lowest rate of reported physical violence in the EU, where the average rate for the last five years stands at nine percent.

In-Nazzjon says that no “concrete plans” came out of a meeting of the government parliamentary group discussing per-1995 rental laws on Monday. Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes said details will be published at a later stage.

The Times speaks to Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo who played down remarks by incoming Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Dabaiba that Malta does not show respect to the North African country. The minister said there is “no issue” between the two governments.

In-Nazzjon quotes a PN statement accusing Prime Minister Robert Abela of persisting with impunity in the Labour Party by refusing to act against junior minister Rosianne Cutajar. The party said Abela is not prepared to clean up Malta’s reputation.

Morning Briefing

Malta only EU nation to have vaccinated more than 10% of population

Malta continues to lead the way in the European Union in the vaccination process against Covid-19 with statistics published by Our World in Data showing that the island is the only country in double digits, having vaccinated in excess of 14% of its population.

Denmark, the country with the second best rate, reaches 8.38%, while Poland and Romania are the only two other nations to have vaccinated more than 7% of their respective populations.

More commitment to fight AML required, stress MPs

Parliament started debating amendments to the Prevention of money laundering Act, as the country seeks to strengthen its AML provision in light of a string of scandals hitting the headlines over the past years. Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis explained that the aim of the bill is to transpose the Sixth Money Laundering Directive on combating money laundering into the criminal law.

PN MP Karol Aquilina called for a stronger commitment to the fight against money laundering, saying that the government needs to let the institutions work against such crimes. He questioned why no action has been taken yet against Pilatus Bank, those allegedly involved in kickbacks on the sale of passports, and alleged money laundering by MP Konrad Mizzi.

Finance Shadow Minister Mario de Marco echoed such sentiments, adding that government needed to show conviction in the fight against money laundering and not act out of convenience because of the Moneyval concerns.

Closing the debate, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that government was working on the key issue raised by Moneyval, that of effectiveness of action, nothing the string of new legislation adopted in the past years.

Over €200 million Libyan assets in Malta

Over €200 million in Libyan government and Gaddafi family assets are frozen in Malta, as a result of the 2011 revolution that overthrew the Gaddafi administraton These include money deposited in banks and shares in company. The information was revealed on the national broadcaster by Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo.

The Minister explained that half of the €200 million belong to the fourth child of Muammar Gaddafi – Mutassim, who was the Libyan national security advisor, until he was killed in the conflict ten years ago. His heirs have been requesting these €100 million.

“Due to the United Nations sanctions that froze these assets, we did not permit this and the case ended in Court. The Libyan government wants that the €100 million do not go to the Gaddafi family but to the Libyan people” he explained.

OPM hit by resignations

The Office of the Prime Minister is facing two resignations from two long-standing party stalwarts. Sandro Craus, had occupied the post of Head of Customer Care since its creation its 2013, while Nigel Vella was Deputy Head of Communications.

The former also serves as Mayor of Rabat, while Vella is a Governor on the board of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority.

Covid-19 Update
Health authorities reported 193 new COVID-19 cases between Sunday and Monday as the death toll reached 305. The latest victim was a 96-year-old man who passed away at Mater Dei Hospital.
A total of 2,782 swab tests were carried out over the past 24 hours, also indicating 242 recoveries, bring the number of active cases to 2,471. The Health Ministry noted that 64,419 doses of vaccine have now been administered.

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