EU could fund gas project linked to man charged with murder of Maltese journalist | Malta
EU energy ministers are pushing for public funds to be used to build a gas pipeline to a power plant in Malta owned by a businessman on trial for the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
On Tuesday officials and MPs will begin adopting new rules aimed at this phase out EU subsidies for fossil fuel projects.
However, on Friday the EU ambassadors confirmed that Malta and Cyprus had received exemptions for pipelines that would connect them to the European gas networks.
In practice, this means that the € 400 million Melita pipeline project, which is supposed to transport gas from Gela in Sicily to Delimara in Malta, could be built with EU funds.
Cyprus will also benefit from an exemption from the phasing out of EU support for fossil fuel infrastructure. The € 7 billion EastMed pipeline is an even bigger undertaking than the Malta-Italy connection – it will connect Cyprus, along with Greece and Israel, to the European gas network.
The move has been criticized by environmental activists because it would cement Malta’s reliance on the Delimara gas-fired power plant, which is owned in part by the man accused of orchestrating the Caruana Galizia assassination.
Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was previously a director of ElectroGas, the company that operates the Delimara power plant, and has a substantial stake in the company with his family. He was charged this year with conspiracy to murder Caruana Galizia. Maltese prosecutors have recommended a life sentence, and he’s due to stand trial. Fenech denies being involved in the killing.
Prior to his arrest, he was the managing director of his family business Tumas Group, which has teamed up with other Maltese families to secure a third of the shares in ElectroGas. He owns shares in the company through Tumas and a separate company. His uncle and Tumas chairman Raymond Fenech said he was unaware of the EU proposals.
“Yorgen Fenech is a minority shareholder in Tumas Group and holds less than 4% of the company’s inheritance shares,” he added.
Caruana Galizia was investigating the award of the Delimara power plant contract to ElectroGas when she died in a car bomb attack in 2017. The Maltese police believe that she was killed as a result of her reporting on the power plant.
Barnaby Pace, a gas activist with the corruption and environmental group Global Witness, said: “This pipeline threatens to lead Malta to use polluting fossil fuels and to support this fossil gas project linked to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia to deal with for decades to come. The EU must put the interests of Maltese and EU citizens above the profits of the big polluters and refuse to enter into another fossil fuel deal. “
ElectroGas argues that when the gas-fired power plant opened in 2017, it represented an environmental improvement as it replaced a facility that ran on heavy fuel oil, which is even more polluting than gas. Malta is also supplied with electricity via a connection line with Sicily.
Delimara is currently powered by liquefied natural gas, which is delivered by ship. Together with the connection line to Sicily, it covers most of the country’s electricity needs. Only around 7% of electricity in Malta is generated from renewable sources, one of the lowest in the EU.
An EU official said Malta had the support of other EU ambassadors when the exception was secured on Friday. “Several delegations have specifically spoken out in favor of maintaining the derogation,” said the official.
A group of eleven countries, including Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, had originally pushed for existing fossil fuel projects to be excluded from funding. However, with the support of most of the Eastern European delegations, Cyprus and Malta were able to point to a ten-year-old conclusion of the European Council that “no EU member state should remain isolated from the European gas and electricity networks after 2015”.