EU energy ministers are pushing for public funds to be allowed for the construction of a gas pipeline to a power station in Malta, which is co-owned by a businessman awaiting trial for the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galicia.
On Tuesday, officials and Members of the European Parliament will begin taking decisions on new rules aimed at: phase out EU grants for fossil fuel projects.
However, on Friday, EU ambassadors confirmed that Malta and Cyprus had been granted exemptions for pipelines that would connect them to European gas networks.
In practice, that means the EUR 400 million Melita pipeline project, designed to transfer gas from Gela in Sicily to Delimara. Malta, could be built with EU funds.
Cyprus can also benefit from an exemption for 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 environmentalists for blocking Malta’s reliance on the Delimara gas-fired power station, which is partially owned by the man accused of masterminding the murder of Caruana Galizia.
Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was previously a director of ElectroGas, the company that operates Delimara’s power station, and together with his family own a significant stake in the company. He was charged this year with conspiracy to murder Caruana Galizia. Maltese Prosecutors have recommended a life sentence, and he is due to stand trial. Fenech denies having any role in the murder.
Before his arrest, he was chief executive of his family business, the Tumas Group, which partnered with other Maltese families to acquire a third-party stake in ElectroGas. He owns shares in the company through Tumas and through a separate company. His uncle and Tumas president Raymond Fenech said he was not aware of the EU proposals.
“Yorgen Fenech is a minority shareholder in Tumas Group and owns less than 4% of the shares of the company that have been transferred through inheritance,” he added.
Caruana Galizia was investigating the award of the Delimara power plant contract to ElectroGas when she was killed in a car bomb in 2017. believe she was killed about her coverage of the power station.
Barnaby Pace, a gas campaigner with the corruption and environmental organization Global Witness, said: “This pipeline threatens to block Malta from using polluting fossil fuels and from handling this fossil gas project, which is linked to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, for the coming decades. . The EU must put the interests of Maltese and EU citizens before the profits of major polluters and refuse to get involved in yet another deal on fossil fuels.”
ElectroGas says the gas-fired power plant was an environmental improvement when it opened in 2017, as it replaced a plant that ran on heavy fuel oil, which is even more polluting than gas. Malta is also supplied with electricity through an interconnector connecting it to Sicily.
Delimara is powered by liquefied natural gas, which is delivered by ship. Together with the interconnector to Sicily, it covers most of the country’s electricity needs. Only about 7% of electricity in Malta is generated from renewable sources, one of the lowest rates in the EU.
An EU official said Malta had the support of other EU ambassadors when the waiver was obtained on Friday. “Several delegations expressed their support for maintaining the derogation,” the official said.
A group of 11 countries, including Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, had originally called for existing fossil fuel projects to be excluded from support. But Cyprus and Malta, supported by most Eastern European delegations, were able to point to a ten-year-old European Council conclusion that “no EU Member State should remain isolated from Europe’s gas and electricity networks after 2015”.