VALLETTA, MALTA —
Maltese voters went to the polls a year early Saturday in a snap election called by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat following an official investigation into allegations his wife owned a company related to the Panama Papers scandal.
Surveys showed Labour Party’s Muscat was likely to win a second, five-year term. But polls indicated one-fifth of voters were undecided, giving the National Force made up of the Nationalist Party and newly formed Democratic Party a slight chance.
The Panama Papers scandal, which detailed offshore companies and other financial data of the rich and powerful, exposed Malta’s energy minister and Muscat’s chief of staff as having acquired a company in Panama.
Muscat called new elections and ordered a magisterial inquiry midway through Malta’s first-ever stint at the presidency of the European Council after allegations surfaced in April that his wife also owned a company in Panama. The Muscats deny the allegations.
Setting up an offshore company is not illegal or evidence of illegal conduct, but shell companies can be used to avoid taxes or launder money.
After the publication of the Panama Papers last year, Muscat was criticized for retaining Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri, whose names figured in the document dump. They acknowledged that they acquired the companies but deny wrongdoing.
Since then, two other magisterial inquiries have been opened after money laundering and kickback allegations were made against Schembri by opposition Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil. Schembri denies any wrongdoing.
None of the investigations had finished before Saturday’s vote.
During the campaign, Busuttil, Muscat’s prime challenger, charged that accusations of corruption had hurt Malta’s financial services industry and would continue to damage the island’s reputation.