A SCOTSMAN has found himself at the centre of a government scandal in Malta after being shot at by a ministerial protection officer following a car accident.
Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia has been slammed in the Maltese press for attempting to “cover up” the shooting following a hit-and-run incident involving his ministerial car and Scots businessman Stephen Morrison Smith.
On Wednesday evening, the government issued a press release saying that driver and police officer Paul Sheehan fired a number of “warning shots” in the air after Mr Morrison Smith, allegedly came at him with a beer bottle.
However the government backtracked the following day, with Minister Mallia admitting that two of the shots fired actually hit Mr Morrison Smith’s car.
Mr Morrison Smith, who is director and shareholder of Waterbus International Ltd and director of Ultimate Technology Ltd, was released from police custody on Friday.
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His wife Vanessa confirmed to local media that he was arrested and that she was too upset to comment further.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We can confirm the arrest of a British national on 19 November in Malta. We have offered consular assistance.”
The incident is understood to have taken place on Wednesday evening, when Mr Morrison Smith allegedly hit the stationary minister’s vehicle in Gzira.
Mallia’s driver and police constable Paul Sheehan gave chase before firing at least two shots at the car - however it has since been confirmed that a total of three shots were fired all of which hit the rear of the Scots Opel Insignia vehicle.
The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said that PM Joseph Muscat had spoken with Mallia and both agreed that strong action should be taken against Sheehan. The police officer has been fired from the ministry and was immediately suspended from the police force.
“In this case, the person in question has breached the trust of the minister,” the OPM added.
Opposition MPs have called for Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia to step down in the wake of the scandal but PM Joseph Muscat has insisted he will await the outcome of a magisterial inquiry to determine Mr Mallia’s part in the affair.
He has also defended Mr Mallia, saying that the initial information issued by the Department of Information on the shooting incident in which the minister’s driver was involved was not a cover-up but a mistake that was corrected.
Speaking at a press conference, he said: “After the case was revealed, there was a decision for the Department of Information to release the details as quickly as possible and phone calls with the independent media were made. This was information we received on site, we had not verified it (and we issued the statement) in order for people not to claim anything was being kept hidden. One of these details proved to be wrong and this was later corrected by Minister Mallia himself.”
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi has questioned whether Sheehan underwent a breathalyser test and asked why Mr Morrison Smith’s car was removed from the site immediately. The MP also asked why the minister’s government plates were removed in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Meanwhile n a tweet, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil asked the Prime Minister was hiding behind a magisterial inquiry.
“You don’t need one to see that the minister lied,” he said.
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