There are no legitimately comprehensible explanations for Joseph Muscat’s absolute and categorial denial of my story of earlier yesterday that his chief of staff received over $430,000 in payments five weeks after they flew together with Konrad Mizzi and Kurt Farrugia and no one else to Baku.
No one can be absolutely sure about someone else’s bank accounts. They can attest to what they know of their character and stake their reputation on their knowledge and friendship of someone else. But you still can’t be sure what anyone else is up to.
When challenged by Adrian Delia yesterday, Joseph Muscat could have said ‘I saw Manuel Delia’s article. Keith Schembri showed it to me himself together with his assurance that Manuel Delia is misinterpreting the facts and there is a perfectly ordinary explanation for that money. Keith Schembri offered me his resignation while he clears his name but I refused it. I have invited him to publish his version of facts. I reiterate my complete confidence in my chief of staff’.
If he was feeling seriously confident he could have said ‘I should add that Manuel Delia’s journalism leaves much to be desired and though his duty to hold people of power to account is not in doubt, it is not fair that his attentions are focused on Keith Schembri. Keith Schembri is fabulously and stupidly wealthy and will therefore have money fall into his account willy nilly. Do please let him get on with the job of helping me serve the country.’
He could have said all that but he didn’t. Instead within less than two hours of my story being published he stood in Parliament and branded it a complete falsehood.
Let’s put things in context, shall we?
First, that trip to Baku which needs to be foremost on our mind when we think of how this administration would conduct its business. Although I can’t claim to have checked I am quite confident there will be no precedent of Malta’s head of government ever travelling on official business without a single civil servant or ambassadorial staff in tow.
Not a single Maltese Prime Minister, I am willing to bet, since 1921 has ever travelled to meet another head of government or head of state without even a single component of his delegation employed on a permanent basis with the government.
That on its own raised red flags.
The fact that the meeting was with one of the most notoriously corrupt dictators in the world raised those flags several feet further up.
Second, the secretiveness of that trip. Already by then we knew and nothing happened since then to change the view that this is not a camera shy government. But they told no one about this trip. Almost no one. Reno Bugeja was told about it and unlike any other press trip he took it upon himself to travel personally for this one rather than delegate the coverage to one of his extensive staffers.
But then something happened. Somehow Reno Bugeja got lost on the way to Baku and pretended to cover the event, conducting some impressive journo work from Paris, of all places, by getting his instructions directly from Kurt Farrugia and reported what he told him as fact.
Third, what happened after that trip. Joseph Muscat would go to Baku again. Ilham Aliyev’s daughter would come to Malta. And Konrad Mizzi would continue his shuttle coming and going to Baku which he had already done three times in 2014.
It would all culminate in the infamous SOCAR deal that we’re all paying for through our noses. And that was kept secret and hidden from public view for years, then published in a form so redacted as to be completely ridiculous and useless.
We only found out what was signed on our behalf when the Daphne Project published the information.
So when Joseph Muscat stands up in Parliament and ‘categorically’ denies anything that may or may not have anything to do with this massive conspiracy, forgive us for not feeling too reassured.
The simple fact of the matter is Keith Schembri received over $430,000 in January 2015, a few weeks after that jaunt to Baku. There is no evidence that I have seen that the source of those funds has been verified or alternatively that the transactions have been flagged as suspicious.
Keith Schembri may be wealthy — though that cannot be reconciled with the fact that he earned an average of €2,800 gross a month from his business since 2010 which means he’s ok but he’s not blindingly rich — but even if he does not remember being hit with $400,000 in a single month three years ago it should not take long for him to check and come up with a reasonable explanation if there was one.
Instead it’s denied as everything has ever been denied before in the hope that the people who revealed the truth are not in a position to publish the evidence they know is there.
That’s what happened when Daphne Caruana Galizia said Keith Schembri (and Konrad Mizzi) had a secret company in Panama set up within their first week in office. They said it wasn’t true. Until the Panama Papers showed it was.
It’s worked for them then and worked for them many times since.
But there’s evidence even in their response. In declaring with such certainty that my story is baseless, Joseph Muscat has again made his own the sins of his chief of staff.
Because, you see, they are.
There’s more to come on this.