Konrad Mizzi complained of a “coordinated attack” against him. ‘Attack’ is not the word I would use but you bet it is coordinated. And a good thing that it is too.
These last couple of days I was away for a conference in London where I discussed with other journalists the impact of trans-national journalism. ‘Foreign correspondents’ have been around since the Crimean War. There have been worldwide networks of journalists for a long time. But that set up has always been designed to bring to a local audience news that would interest them from outside their own country.
It is not designed for 21st-century realities.
What reality am I most especially concerned with? The reality that crime knows no borders but knows very well how to ride on the worldwide conduits of money flows to hide in plain sight.
The great conspiracy of crime and corruption, to which we’ll give the working title ’17 Black’, is one such episode.
Think of the great lengths the perpetrators went through to avoid detection. They literally covered the globe from Panama City to Dubai, from Baku to Malta, from Riga to Washington, building structures and creating money flows resulting in every single Maltese household connected to the energy grid being swindled out of their money for the next twenty years.
This must be far and away the biggest ever heist perpetrated in Malta. Money skimmed off the top of every single electricity bill issued to each of us for two decades and like snake oil salesmen everywhere those who rob us expect (and often get) our enthusiastic and effusive thanks.
Daphne Caruana Galizia smelt the stink before anyone else did. Her legendary intuition was switched on when we got photos of that famous meeting in Baku when Joseph Muscat, still crisp and fresh as a Prime Minister as were his starched white shirts, faced Ilham Aliyev, flanked by Konrad Mizzi, Kurt Farrugia, and the man who made them all, Keith Schembri.
Daphne Caruana Galizia alone could not gather all the evidence, so well hidden it was. She was killed while trying to reveal it. It took journalists from 17 of the world’s leading news organisations and the industrious and intrepid Jacob Borg at Times of Malta to bring to light more evidence to paste into the story that Daphne Caruana Galizia had only started to build.
The missing link was the ownership of 17 Black. The Maltese slice of the power-station pie had been long a matter of speculation, informed and not. A Reuters journalist connected in the Dubai banking sector was needed to crack this last secret and The Daphne Project completed the entire circuit of corruption.
We have now been told who agreed to pay whom and how much.
It may be sophisticated, it may involve a lot of business class travel (much of it at your expense) to set up, it may be complicated to figure out and near impossible to prove: but the essential reality is no harder to grasp than the image of a dirty brown envelope stuffed with cash and left on the desk of a Minister granting the bearer a government contract.
And since Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri would not leave when the Panama Papers first painted a very clear picture of what they seem to have been up to, nothing short of a worldwide coordinated effort to document the truth they would have sought to hide became necessary.
And Konrad Mizzi, as they say, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, mate.
Because this investigation is not over. It has only just begun.
The fact that Joseph Muscat continues to buy time at what he clearly knows a is huge political expense for himself continues to solidify the perception in everyone’s mind that he must be a direct party to this swindle.
Magistrate Aaron Bugeja was not as connected as Reuters are in Dubai when he was looking to fill the gaps in the evidence he was trying to put together in connection with the allegation that Joseph Muscat may have been bribed by Azerbaijan. Contrary to many people’s belief, contrived or genuine, Aaron Bugeja’s job in conducting a Magisterial inquiry was never as an investigator. If the evidence did not come to him he had little way of finding it, even more so if it was deliberately kept away from him.
The secrets and the evidence buried by the criminals in every corner of the world may not have all been found. But that does not mean it is not there.
It is understandable, and only right, that our attention right now is on Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. The excuse that they never got the money they were promised is not only politically irrelevant, it is legally irrelevant as well. Like murder, bribery is a crime even in the attempt of it and punishable not only when it is successful. Failure due to stupidity or the sheer bad luck of being caught in the act by the extraordinary talents of an iconic journalist working alone at her dining room table in Bidnij, do not mitigate seriousness of the attempted crime, and virginal protestations of “no money was ever received” only add to the entirely reasonable point that, well, that wasn’t through any fault of yours, was it?.
But quite apart from Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, we have to take care of our own people as well.
The energy deal entered into in exchange for the alleged bribes is rotten, vitiated and a daily robbery from the household accounts of every family in Malta, whether they are tycoons living in Portomaso apartments (isn’t that ironic?) or from impoverished families scraping together enough money to pay rent to live in a garage, and from everyone in between.
You’re not being robbed by corrupt bastards only if you’re living on the street.
It is absolutely unacceptable for the people we’ve been told about, the Fenechs and their Azeri partners, to continue to be involved in this deal any further. Nor is it right for Siemens to continue to benefit. They will have to face the legal consequences within their own country where it is a criminal offence for any German company to be involved, even if only by association, in corruption anywhere in the world, as David Casa rightly pointed out this morning.
The energy deal with Electrogas must be called off immediately. There must be criminal investigations and political inquiries, and we demand this even though we’ve been asking for this for two years in the face of rationalisations, excuses, delaying tactics and blatant lies.
But it’s far more complicated than that.
The ‘roadmap’ of which so much was made in 2012, we have now had made clear to us in stark terms, turns out to have been a well-costed criminal conspiracy and it’s wrong for our children to be made to pay the price for it. No wonder the country was presented with a shiny new power station: the wrapping paper seems to have made some people very happy.
There’s some more stuff we need to have looked into.
For example, we need to understand why in times of despair Chris Cardona resided rent free at Portomaso, a Fenech enterprise.
And we are now particularly curious why the Portomaso and Oracle Casinos, the latter also owned by the Fenechs, were by far the most favourite gambling venues of alleged lead assassin Alfred Degiorgio who killed, apparently to order, Daphne Caruana Galizia by text message. A court recently heard how he recycled half a million euro through those betting shops over several months before his arrest. I wonder if 17 Black was his favourite bet.
And perhaps we should get a better understanding of how, and why, Portomaso Casino was used by Nunzio Lagana for the poker tournaments suspected of being vehicles for money laundering for the Cosa Nostra. Nunzio Lagana is a business associate of Vincenzo Romeo, the sharp suited Italian businessman named in connection with iffy gaming in Malta and, coincidentally, the nephew of Nitto Santapaola, for a long time said to be Number Two in the Sicilian Mafia.
Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri – and quite likely Joseph Muscat – are not likely to be worried about Lawrence Cutajar tapping them on the shoulders. They will barely bat an eyelid that now even MaltaToday – who a few days ago was still calling out The Daphne Project as a fantasy bereft of facts – is asking for their heads to roll.
If what many are thinking is the case, they would have much more pressing matters to worry about. If you get into bed with very, very, very dangerous people, it’s unkept promises to them that would prey on your mind, to the exclusion of all else.
When Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed she had barely started to look through information leaked to her from inside Electrogas. The Daphne Project dug on through that and found just how badly every householder in Malta is being fleeced.
That information could have reasonably been expected by whoever leaked it to have scuppered the energy deal with Azerbaijan. That deal had already been fixed before the 2013 elections and a lot of money was spent in ensuring the right government was elected and sustained to get it delivered.
It’s a fair interpretation that it’s not that Joseph Muscat thinks he can get away without firing his chief of staff. It’s not even that he doesn’t want to. It could very well be the case that he simply can’t. After all, if this is the case Joseph Muscat would know that if he does, all bets are off.
All of them.
Or maybe it really is the case that he really believes that the 17 Black story has as much truth to it as the Egrant story, as he implied this morning, when he also said that the Rule of Law must take its course.
It will, Joseph, it will.