Joseph Muscat put journalism on trial today. And found it guilty.
Read first what happened in the court room this morning. Get the detail from the court reports but in brief Joseph Muscat was testifying in the case he brought against Daphne Caruana Galizia accusing her of defamation when she reported his wife, and therefore by extension he, owned Egrant.
Even if you’ve been on another planet these past two years you know Egrant was the third Panama company set up by Brian Tonna with Keith Schembri’s and Konrad Mizzi’s that first week after Joseph Muscat was sworn in as prime minister in March 2013.
Its owner was never found until Daphne Caruana Galizia reported Egrant received payments from the daughter of the dictator of Azerbaijan who held accounts at Pilatus Bank, a bank in Ta’ Xbiex that laundered money for the Aliyevs.
At the time no one knew Pilatus Bank laundered money for the Aliyevs. That was confirmed along with piles of other information Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on the back of reliable and trustworthy information from her sources at the bank.
Eventually, Pilatus Bank was shut down by the European Central Bank and the FBI arrested its owner who is now awaiting trial for bank fraud.
That owner was seen taking what may have been evidence out of the bank building the night Daphne Caruana Galizia reported about Joseph Muscat’s alleged bribery and money laundering.
An inquiry was started the next morning and after more than a year it concluded no evidence was found at Pilatus Bank Joseph and Michelle Muscat owned Egrant.
The report itself was never published.
This morning Joseph Muscat insisted in court “the other party” withdraws the claim he owned Egrant and “admit they are wrong”.
Daphne Caruana Galizia could not appear in court to either consider Joseph Muscat’s request or refute it and instead attempt to defend herself by backing her claim.
Joseph Muscat was not surprised she was not there this morning because Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a car bomb over a year ago.
In her place this morning there was her husband who appeared on his own behalf and on behalf of his and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s three sons. None of them wrote the articles that claimed Joseph Muscat owned Egrant. And yet Joseph Muscat this morning said they should admit “they” were wrong.
And if you really see what’s going on here, he actually tried to blackmail them into saying “they” were wrong about his alleged corruption and money laundering. Because since they are not the authors of the articles that he says defamed him, they are also not the ones who investigated, discovered and appraised the evidence before publishing the claim.
They are therefore likely completely unable to defend themselves from the claim their mother was wrong about Joseph Muscat. And the inability to defend yourself amounts to the loss of the lawsuit and the payment of damages.
Joseph Muscat understands this. In most cases, we have removed barbaric laws that visit the sins of the parents on their children. If your father drunkenly runs over and kills someone and proceeds to die in the same traffic accident, you do not go to prison to serve his sentence on his behalf.
And yet, even allowing for the possibility, for the pure sake of argument, that Joseph Muscat is right about Daphne Caruana Galizia having been wrong, we have here the barbaric law that allows Joseph Muscat to extract the payment of damages from her children.
He knows he looks bad doing this. So you must ask yourself why he does it anyway.
Because you see, crocodile tears and all, the Egrant inquiry which he alone has read, does not exonerate him from the Egrant allegations. It says evidence was not found to back up the claim. But that is not proof positive of his innocence.
Far from it. And Joseph Muscat understands it because outside his circle of fawning adulators, people everywhere still ask why Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi do not bother to defend themselves from the abominable accusation he so loudly protests his innocence of. Why he never got Brian Tonna to say who Egrant belonged to. Why he never published the inquiry when he had promised to do so. And so on.
On the other hand if the heirs of Daphne Caruana Galizia prove to be tempted by the offer of avoiding further litigation they have little hope of winning, not to mention the incredible costs in damages they will need to pay for wrongs they believe their mother did not commit but are certain they never committed themselves, their ‘admission’ would be the ultimate absolution Joseph Muscat needs.
For Joseph Muscat, it has proven insufficient for Aaron Bugeja to say he did not find enough evidence to recommend he is prosecuted. That does not clear his name in political terms. He needs Daphne Caruana Galizia to take the story back. Conveniently she’s not here, so the unenviable prospect of getting her to take back what she knows to be true is not a hurdle Joseph Muscat needs to leap over.
Instead he can bully her children.
We can romanticise the Caruana Galizia heirs and expect they would never back down. But that suggests they owe it to any one of us to keep fighting a losing battle to avoid giving Joseph Muscat the smug satisfaction of turning on the rest of us and telling us “see … even ‘the other party’ in Joseph Muscat vs Daphne Caruana Galizia now says Joseph Muscat is innocent and clean.”
Daphne Caruana Galizia fought to her last breathing moment battles on our behalf. We must not do like Joseph Muscat and visit on her children the responsibilities she willingly took upon herself.
If they do walk away, we’ll still have our convictions based on the evidence we have seen and the logic a few of us are endowed with. Joseph Muscat’s tears last June did not change that. His smug laughter now would not change that either.