Five witnesses gave consistent testimony. Neville Gafà solicited bribes from them in exchange for a public service: a medical visa. Some of the witnesses testified they were denied the service because they refused to pay the bribe. Some of the witnesses said Neville Gafà used uniformed policemen to bully his victims into paying him. Some of the witnesses said he offered them hush money not to testify against him.
These were witnesses presented by David Lindsay, editor of The Malta Independent on Sunday. David Lindsay is having to defend himself in a libel suit that Neville Gafà filed against him for reporting just what these witnesses testified in court yesterday.
Here are ways this is wrong:
Firstly, Neville Gafà sued a journalist assuming he would not be able to produce his sources as witnesses. To his shock David Lindsay could. But if journalists can only report what sources that would be willing to testify tell them we’ll never know the truth. These people testified from Libya. They have no future relationship with the government of Malta they fear might be jeopardised. In testifying that Neville Gafà solicited a bribe from them they also admitted they bribed him, a crime itself.
This sort of corruption is happening in other sectors. Colleagues and bosses of Neville Gafà are soliciting tangenti, kickbacks, bribes, backhanders from all sorts of people looking for public services. Restaurant owners, clothes shop owners, small holders and business providers are being forced to include Neville Gafà’s bosses and friends as silent partners merely to obtain public services and permits or merely to avoid harassment from the authorities like tax audits and so on. But these people have their business, their life and their family in Malta and they would never be prepared to testify in an open court.
So, the choice is letting Neville Gafà’s friends and bosses continue to get away with corruption or be sued like David Lindsay has been and go bankrupt.
Secondly, these witnesses have been available to the police for years. Five witnesses giving consistent testimony and corroborating phone messages and screenshots would have been a strong case for the prosecutor’s office. But what we have in court is not a case brought in by the police against Neville Gafà. It’s a case brought in by Neville Gafà himself. The police ‘investigated’ Neville Gafà and found nothing worth prosecuting.
Now the police owe us an explanation. Did they speak to these five witnesses? Why did they think that 5 eye witnesses with nothing to gain admitting they committed a crime by bribing an officer who solicited the bribe from them did not amount to sufficient grounds for acting against Neville Gafà?
The only answer we will get is ‘investigations are ongoing’. It is not an exoneration of Neville Gafà. There can’t be an exoneration. But it postpones the consequences indefinitely. The more time passes the more journalists are scared of libel action and the more witnesses clam up because they accept to be bought, or submit to threats or accidentally fall on a knife stuck blade upwards in a crack on the pavement.
This is how crimes committed by politicians are treated by our authorities.
Thirdly, Neville Gafà has been explicitly endorsed by the prime minister. “He is doing very good work”. The prime minister made this statement before yesterday’s testimonies but well after their content was known because it was reported by David Lindsay all those moons ago.
But we know the prime minister will assume no responsibility, nor will he attribute responsibility to someone else. Neville Gafà works in the prime minister’s office. He represents Malta in official delegations to the Libyan government whose people Neville Gafà has extorted for money.
Fourthly – think about this – Neville Gafà extorted money from civilians injured in the cross fire in a war, looking for medical treatment. I can hardly think of a more callous, cynical form of evil.
It is one thing to abuse of your power as a government official. When you have power, everyone else is vulnerable and exposed to your abuse of it.
But can anyone imagine anyone more vulnerable than someone injured in war looking for treatment in a foreign country where no one speaks your language? Can you think of a more cruel and inhuman way one can abuse of authority?
How it must have rankled when he told his victims “I’m Muslim like you”.
Allah will have his vengeance, Mr Gafà. May you never have peace.