“Do not be negative. Our institutions are working.” That is the standard reply by the government, its trolls and apologists when one mentions or asks about corruption, money laundering and a host of other criminal activities by ministers, government officials and their friends we face every day. Outgoing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat used to insist that the nation’s institutions were impartial and functioning just fine. More over, Labour trolls in the likes of Andy Ellul, Karl Stagna Navarra and Robert Musumeci, repeat it constantly – to convince themselves and others. Go and tell that to the marines now.
In November 2019, during the campaign to choose a PL leader, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne delivered the opening address at the SiGMA conference. Fearne said that the rule of law and institutions in Malta were functioning well and that democracy ‘is not going anywhere’.
Robert Abela, the newly elected Prime Minister in February of this year declared, during a meeting with the UĦM Voice of the Workers union, that “These were decisions that hurt. They hurt me and my colleagues but they had to be taken,” he said. He was referring to the resignations of Joseph Muscat and some of his heinous allies.
Dr Abela stressed the Partit Laburista had good governance credentials, but needed to ensure that “what happened doesn’t happen again”. He said that when he was appointed prime minister, he had set up a good governance committee to implement reforms. Dr Abela said he expected the state’s institutions to function properly. Indeed they are.
And listen to this: Robert Abela said he was disappointed by “feet-dragging” in the courts. Members of the bench, he said, needed to take decisions in a timely manner. Maybe he forgot that most of the judiciary was politically appointed by his predecessor.
To stress his point Robert Abela pointed to the Police who were currently looking into alleged abuse by the traffic squad. He said that this showed that the institutions were working, and that difficult decisions would continue to be taken. A few of the traffic police officers were earlier this week arraigned in court after ‘intensive’ investigations by the police. Four months after the alleged offences.
Owen Bonnici, former Minister for Justice and now Minister for Education, who has been found guilty by the Courts of Law of breaching the Constitution of Malta, in May 2018 wrote that “one of the main principles of our Constitution is the Rule of Law: the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced – the exact opposite to the Rule of the Mob or the Rule of the Mighty”. Would you believe that?
Then he played the victim with his angelic face saying that “we (the Labour Government) have been heavily criticised during the past two years that Rule of Law in Malta is non-existent. We have been subjected to criticism that Rule of Law in our country ceased to exist when the Labour Party was voted in Government. We have been criticised that our highest institutions are not functioning, that they have abdicated from their responsibilities, some even saying that this Government has hijacked these institutions.” He had the gall to claim that his government strengthened democracy.
Silvio Schembri, the former Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, now Minister for the Economy, is on record saying that the €2.34 million financial penalty issued by the Malta Gaming Authority to Blackrock Media Limited, ‘a company’ which was operating illegally without the necessary authorisation, is a sure sign that our institutions are working and are being effective in their operations. Silvio Schembri emphasized that this result was possible through the professional work carried out by a joint collaboration between the Malta Gaming Authority and the Malta Police Force. “This is proof that our institutions work diligently, efficiently and effectively.”
Now, let’s take a close look at how in reality the institutions in Malta work. In 2015, a certain John Vella reported then Minister for Education Evarist Bartolo’s canvasser Edward Caruana for demanding a €30,000 backhander. Even an obligatory simple investigation would have revealed to the Police Commissioner that, on his modest salary, Caruana had developed six large apartments, a large three bedroomed penthouse, six garages and an office valued at €2 million in Rabat. Instead, the Police Commissioner charged Vella with slandering an official without even investigating Edward Caruana. It took three long years for him to be acquitted, and only because of Philip Rizzo’s intervention. Rizzo, CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, discovered that thousands of euro of public funds had gone missing. He compiled a 200-page dossier detailing the forgeries and corruption by Caruana and went to the Prime Minister.
Joseph Muscat did his best to try and buy Rizzo’s silence by offering him another job. In the meantime, Caruana continued with the development. Caruana gave two apartments to his sons and sold another before any transfer of property was frozen by the Court. Even after he was charged, in March 2018, he still put up a penthouse for sale for €640,000. Joseph Muscat failed to take any action. And the full force of the police was used to harass and prosecute Vella who dared speak the truth.
Now a look at the famous Pilatus Bank, you know the one in Ta’ Xbiex where Labour supporters went to celebrate the 2017 election victory. This so-called bank started operations pretty soon after Joseph Muscat was voted into power. It is owned by Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, from Iran, who was so friendly with Prime Minister Muscat and his then chief of staff Keith Schembri that he invited them to his exclusive wedding in Venice.
Keith Schembri had an account in Pilatus Bank into which Brian Tonna of Nexia BT had transferred €100,000, allegedly from kickbacks from the passports sales. Adrian Hillman also had a bank account at Pilatus. €650,000 had been funnelled to Hillman from Schembri. Daphne Caruana Galizia had exposed the bank’s laundering of funds from corrupt schemes. The Panama Papers revealed that the bank facilitated suspicious transactions from Panama.
She also exposed Cheng Chen, the Shanghai Electric representative who negotiated with Konrad Mizzi, had a British Virgin Island company set up for him by Brian Tonna and also had an account at Pilatus Bank.
Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the Azeri corrupt leader, with whom Michelle Muscat posed for photographs, and her sister Arzu were Pilatus Banks’ largest clients.
Remember that Joseph Muscat made several low-key trips to Azerbaijan which did not follow the normal protocol for meetings with foreign leaders. The notorious meeting between Muscat, Mizzi, Schembri and Kurt Farrugia in Azerbaijan without civil servants or the press was as brazen as it was reckless.
An FIAU report on the bank as early as 2016 found serious shortcomings, including failing to register politically exposed persons as such. In March 2018, Sadr was arrested in the United States and charged with money laundering and fraud amounting to $115 million. A jury trial found him guilty but the process is being dismissed on a technicality.
The European Banking Authority opened investigations into how Malta dealt with Pilatus. These revealed serious shortcomings in the FIAU.
The European Parliament sent an investigative delegation on money laundering several times to Malta and concluded that there was an atmosphere of fear and a sense that criminals could operate with impunity in the country.
After massive international pressure, the arrest in the US of Ali Sadr and ECB intervention for the bank’s licence to eventually be revoked, the MFSA revoked the bank’s licence. But by then the birds had already flown away. Lawrence Cutajar was eating rabbit at Mġarr while Sadr was doing his thing at the bank at Ta’ Xbiex. The damage to Malta’s reputation was huge, Joseph Muscat and his allies continued to defend Pilatus Bank till the very end.
“I want all the facts to emerge in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. I will leave no stone unturned,” said Joseph Muscat. “As a party, we need to establish ourselves as the movement that safeguards institutions. We need to be there to show, and facts will continue to show, that institutions in our country are working.”
After a number of civil society protests, Muscat, who meanwhile was recognised by the OCCRP as the most corrupt person in the world, had to resign. In January this year Dr Robert Abela took his place as prime minister. President George Vella in his Christmas message to the country said that “if journalists are silenced, so is democracy.”
“Disbelief as inquiry hears how Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were never summoned by police.”
But there is more, much more and much worse. Last week Ian Abdilla, former head of the Economic Crimes Unit, took the witness stand at the public inquiry about Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. His testimony showed in what state the institutions in Malta are.
Ian Abdilla had no reply when asked in court on Wednesday why police had not hauled Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi in for questioning over their offshore affairs. Abdilla received a reprieve from a board of inquiry looking into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, as he confirmed that police did nothing when the 2016 Panama Papers scandal had implicated the two politically exposed men. Nothing.
But he explained himself : “I worked a lot, Your Honour. I wasn’t satisfied at the amount of resources at our disposal, and it was only over the past year that people started appreciating the work we do,” he brazenly told the Court. But Judge Lofaro made it clear that she was not believing him by pointing out that he did “absolutely nothing” with regards to the Panama Papers.
“A Maltese journalist was writing regularly about this, mentioned names and even referred to a trip overseas with a tax department official. In light of this hardcore crime, did the police ignore it as though it were a story on a football game?”
Over and over again Abdilla pleaded ignorance, saying he wasn’t even aware of the allegations and hadn’t been informed about it. He says that although he used Caruana Galizia’s blog as an open source on occasion, he wasn’t a devout follower of it.
Abdilla also declared that he planned to question Fenech at Portomaso not at the Police HQ. You know, because Yorgen Fenech was a close friend of Joseph Muscat and a partner with Keith Schembri.
Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia asked “A book called ‘The Secrecy World’ by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist was published and explains how the Panama Papers caused a global earthquake and the structures used by these people. Malta is mentioned in this book. Have you read it?” Abdilla replied that it was the first time that he heard about the book.
He prefers l-orizzont and The Beano.
More seriously, Judge Joseph Said Pullicino declared that in a police file the Attorney General Peter Grech advised the police to tread carefully when the Panama Papers scandal broke because “trouble was brewing for the country”.
Said Pullicino asked Abdilla : “What about the Attorney General’s advice to tread very carefully regarding the Panama Papers, because there was trouble brewing for the country? Was that why you did nothing?”
Abdilla replied that he could not recall the advice.
Ian Abdilla’s testimony in court showed that he formed part of the corruption, inefficiency and the police leadership’s cooperation with criminals and crooked politicians that Repubblika and #occupyjustice have made known to the public in the past months.
One can say that Ian Abdilla is either incompetent or negligent. One can also assume that he failed in his duty to investigate corruption cases. He helped cultivate the impunity that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia. Not only that, but after her execution he helped criminals avoid justice. This makes him as responsible as Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and others who are yet to give account for themselves.
If Robert Abela is to be credible he needs to ask Angelo Gafà to investigate and arraign Ian Abdilla. He should be immediately dismissed from the police corps.
Now the cherry on the cake. News came out that Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà presented the new structure of the Police force. Not only did Gafà keep Ian Abdilla but he promoted him to Director in charge of Information and Communication Technology.
The truth of the matter is that there is clear evidence of the State’s capture of all of the nation’s institutions – the judiciary, the police corps and the army. Malta, and with it the whole world, is witnessing the meltdown of all institutions. And yet, they take offence if one says that Malta is a Mafia State. Malta’s reputation is in a deep crisis.