‘Allo ‘Allo! was all about running gags. One of them was about Rene’s wife catching him snogging the girls on their restaurant staff. “You stupid woman,” he would always retort when accused of adultery. And long-suffering Mme Artois would obligingly accept her husband’s umpteenth lame excuse for having his tongue down Yvette Carte-Blanche’s throat.
Neville Gafa’ is nowhere near as adorably charming as Rene’ Artois. If he walked down the pews with the collection baskets at Sunday service, you’ll ask him for some ID. You go through his Facebook pictures and notice his habit of posing for pictures with a Mona Lisa smile and a look that makes you tap your pockets.
When he returns the call of Times of Malta’s Ivan Martin to tell him he “bumped into” a Tripoli warlord while “on holiday” in the war-torn capital of a failed state and that it was “nothing serious” he looks like Rene’ Artois wiping garish lipstick off his nose and angrily explaining it was from rehearsals as he’s replacing the local circus clown because of a spontaneous bout of syphilis.
The list of lies he’s been caught in over this jaunt to Tripoli seems interminable. There’s a new one every day.
But the mistake we make is to sit back and wait for the next scandal to erupt hoping that will be the definitive one that brings about some consequence. We do that all the time. No sooner do we find who owns 17 Black that we start asking who owns Macbridge as if scandalous and certain knowledge of corruption and criminal collusion is something we’re looking forward to rather than something we already know.
Let’s pause on this odd scenario of a junior government official on holiday in Tripoli, driven around in an ambassadorial car escorted by a security services guard who is normally on the Prime Minister’s detail.
There, “on the street”, he meets Haithem Tajouri, a warlord with no political cause except using uniformed guards to violently protect his business interests. This man, Haithem Tajouri, represents the failure of the Libyan State.
A State’s most basic definition is being the entity with the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. If anyone but the State commits violence to pursue their interest they are outside the law. And the State is perfectly entitled to use violence in order to stop those outside the law. The State can shoot back. The State can detain and lock up those who step outside the law. No one else can.
When a State fails, private individuals build their own armies. They dispatch them to intimidate people and to impose on them the private law of the warlord. The ‘formal State’ — the Ministers that Neville Gafa’ also met while on holiday in Tripoli — can’t do much about it. They don’t have a monopoly on violence. They are weaker than the warlord.
That is why when the mafia was in its highest ascendency in Sicily, it was described as a state within a State. Their law was boss.
Now back to little Neville Gafa’ who before 2013 was an optician’s assistant.
He meets Haithem Tajouri, but it’s “nothing serious”. Why? Are they pals? Did they have a chat about their football team?
How do they even know of each other’s existence? Does Haithem Tajouri regularly read Times of Malta? Or was he a keen reader of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog when she wrote about Neville Gafa’?
If you were casually walking around Tripoli …
Wait, hold that thought. Why would you be in Tripoli? And why would you be walking?
Or was Neville Gafa’ in his ambassadorial car and Haithem Tajouri was driving alongside and they both stopped at traffic lights, vaguely recognised each other and politely pulled their windows down for a hi?
All this is as unlikely as Rene’ Artois making it to the clowning job at the local circus.
What does Haithem Tajouri need that Neville Gafa’ can supply? That’s the question that needs asking. It’s “nothing serious” but you can bet it’s a transaction.
Haithem Tajouri is in the import-export business. He needs to import the weaponry that keeps his army working. And he exports what his business interests ‘produce’ or ‘acquire’ outside the legal structures of the formal Libyan state. In other words, he needs paperwork.
What’s Neville Gafa’, an official of Malta’s state whom no Permanent Secretary would acknowledge having him as their direct report, talking about when he meets a Tripoli warlord who imports arms and exports only he really can know with certainty what?
This started out as an embarrassing diplomatic incident caused by a mid-ranking wheeler-dealer willing to use his office business card to move about town and feel more important than he really is.
Now it’s looking far more sinister.
Chris Fearne and Carmelo Abela have insisted he’s not on their payroll. Yet Neville Gafa’s official email account is attributed to the Ministry of Health and he was driven around Tripoli in the ambassadorial car owned and run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
So what’s stopping them firing him?
I think I can guess. They know the answers to the questions we’re asking.