All those Joseph Muscat-worshipping idiots out there who think it’s a good thing we can never go back to 2012, have no idea what’s hitting them in 2022. Like Evarist Bartolo I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know if the Americans will have their way and Malta gets slapped with a big ‘Danger – Radioactive’ sticker on its front door come the big vote at the Financial Action Task Force. If we are not grey-listed, we’ll have avoided it by the skin of our teeth. And though the air will be poisoned with collective exhalation, there will be precious little to celebrate.
Even the most optimistic scenario is a dark turn in our history as a disproportionately busy economic node on the global financial stage. There’s little reason to be optimistic. The prospect of grey-listing is real. It has been real since 2018.
We’ve ticked the easy boxes. We changed laws we’ve left unapplied. We fell on local groceries cashing social security cheques for their customers for a small commission and treated them as if we nabbed El Chapo. We published blueprints for a warehouse to store assets taken away from criminals and allowed it to languish, without a boss, without resources and with nothing to justify its existence.
When we couldn’t block Simon Busuttil’s court requests for inquiries into financial crimes, we charged the culprits he accused in court. Look at the case against Keith Schembri’s banker, Matthew Pace. Even the most superficial glance at the reports of court proceedings shows that they’re improvising as they go along. Prosecutors, investigators, witnesses and magistrates fumbling their way through an impossible thicket of confusion, falling for every other booby trap set up for them by the perpetrators.
Keith Schembri spent two weeks in jail until he got bail and fate seems to have decided he will spend no more. Joseph Muscat is finally sleeping at night again. Konrad Mizzi never knew why he needed to stay up. Brian Tonna and Karl Schembri don’t even need to miss on lounging near the beach. Their license to audit other people’s books had been taken away from them, then given back to them, toing and froing as if it was a golf club membership card.
Paul Apap Bologna made a mockery of the Auditor General and a Parliamentary Committee investigating his conduct, hiring a lawyer apparently for the sole purpose of reminding the State’s institutions who the boss really is.
Yorgen Fenech has not yet been charged with financial crime though he shouldn’t be too far from the police at any given moment. His casinos, reasonably suspected of fronting for mafia crime – domestic and cross-border – are still in business undisturbed by the annoying detail that he’s in jail awaiting trial for murder.
The mysterious temporary owners of three formerly public hospitals have flipped their deal onto a US company that seems to have been right royally shafted by the transaction. They’re stuck with the commitments the former owners made including commitments with Keith Schembri’s business interests.
A senior partner of a law firm was caught on camera promising an undercover journalist his friends in political power could arrange a passport for someone with a criminal record. An almost identical scenario led to Cyprus shutting down its passport-selling scheme. In Malta? Not here Jose’. Here we defy the European Commission’s legal case that our passport scheme is contrary to EU law and say we’ll continue selling passports come what may.
Malta’s financial services industry allowed Nicolas Maduro’s sons to hide the money they stole from their country’s oil reserves. Our banking industry allowed Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad to hide money for Ilham Aliyev’s children. Our gaming industry cashed money for Ninni Bacchi and his customers in the Palermo mafia.
The country’s fisheries director facilitated a scam to under-declare tuna catches in the Mediterranean flouting European law and maritime conventions. She resigned but no criminal charges were filed.
The brother of the head of the civil service is charged with money laundering caught with €500,000 in cash at home. That’s after his brother, still in office, helped him get a political appointment as consul in Shanghai to take over there from Konrad Mizzi’s wife, Sai Mizzi.
Reports that civil servants helped fuel smugglers falsify certificates of provenance to pump oil stolen from Libya to enter the system in Europe in a joint venture between Sicilian Mafiosi and Libyan warlords brokered by a couple of Maltese football have beens, were investigated “internally”. No action was taken.
An outdated whistle-blower law was used to persecute Giovanna Debono and her husband, angrily acquitted by the court after years of public torture. Genuine whistle-blowers were denied protection by the government to keep the secrets of Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and who knows who else hidden at the FIAU. A European directive to update the whistle-blower legislation is being assiduously ignored.
A government Minister assassinates in financial terms a journalist who exposes him for visiting brothels. He withdraws his court case against her after she’s killed but only after her heirs challenge him by producing evidence that could confirm he perjured himself. The allegations against him stand as new allegations mount that he may have participated in a plot to kill her.
Another Minister, this time a sitting Minister in office, is named by multiple witnesses as the inside man in a heist at a bank where he worked. He is caught lying about his involvement in the investigations in the aftermath of that crime. And still, he stays.
Another Minister is forced to admit he signed off on a re-zoning of an industrial area into a high-rise cluster minutes after meeting Yorgen Fenech, the principal beneficiary of his pen strokes. He’s still in office.
Reports of documentary evidence linking the prime minister to a secret Panama company and unlawful payments from Azerbaijan were dismissed by an uninformed, ill-equipped investigation, the only one in the world following the Panama Papers that relied on the evidence given by the poorly paid clerks at Mossack Fonseca, nominated as directors of more companies than the children of Abraham. Where Iceland fired its prime minister, and Pakistan threw its prime minister into prison, Malta’s prime minister was let go with a doubly golden handshake. And he lied about that too.
Even our participation in Eurovision exposed us for wanting to fix odds, with public money used to manipulate bookies.
In the meantime we flout international laws, detaining migrants in appalling conditions, cooperating with Libyan warlords to imprison others and, when the mood so takes us, we allow others to drown in seas we profit from for claiming as belonging to our area of responsibility.
Edward Scicluna spent years as a minister denying all this happened. He told CBS 60 minutes, in a program I happened to be invited to as well, that what I listed above are mere exaggerations, the product of fertile imaginations. And then we made him Governor of the Central Bank and sat him on the governing body of the European Central Bank which had to intervene in Pilatus Bank when Edward Scicluna wouldn’t touch it.
He’s in good company. The regulator of our passports scheme cooperates in the government’s efforts to keep secret the identity of the scheme’s beneficiaries. Openly he admits secrecy is needed because other countries will not like what they see if they learned the truth. The regulator of our financial services industry flew with Yorgen Fenech to Las Vegas at the alleged murderer’s expense. They went on a double date. His companion is still the financial regulator’s chief legal counsel.
Previously she worked at the gaming regulator. Her boss held conversations with Yorgen Fenech where they discussed how to hide evidence to mislead a journalist who was onto criminal wrongdoing at one of Yorgen Fenech’s casino. The journalist is me by the way whom the regulator described to someone already widely suspected of having killed another journalist that this journalist is an “aħdar”. What does Malta do to “ġurnalisti ħodor”? The government did their best to tell the world what to think.
Glenn Bedingfield too was interviewed on the CBS 60 minutes. All he could tell them was that Malta’s shame was Ana Gomes’s fault. Because there’s always a cartoon enemy, a funny turbaned Turk we can mobilise a lynch mob on. It’s always easier if the lynch mob chases a witch, to mix historical metaphors. Burning a woman is more fun.
It has always been somebody else’s fault. Evarist Bartolo today said the government did all it could to avoid greylisting. Was that when Evarist Bartolo was giving an interview to Tim Sebastian admitting he kept to himself secrets about where the bodies were buried because, by his own account, he was too weak?
The point is this cannot be fixed, not with new laws, not with unbearably pedantic and unproductive nit-picking by FIAU cow-prod wielders, not with aggressive PR, not with witch hunts and lynch mobs. Not even stopping the passports scheme can fix this. Not even firing the Labour Party from the government and electing the PN instead. Not even giving Libya back the money that Mu’ammar Ghaddafi stole from his impoverished people and we’ve been “keeping safe”. Not even convicting Keith Schembri’s junior partners. Not even asking Joseph Muscat for some of our money back.
There’s nothing we can do that will take us back to 2012. Whether we are grey-listed or not, we cannot do much that will instantaneously give us back the trust of the world. We cannot unshaft our European partners and the United States with the passports we sold people they would have wanted to stop infiltrating their territories.
We cannot unkill Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Neither mortified Evarist Bartolo, nor indignant George Vella, nor self-satisfied Chris Fearne, nor and especially not clueless Robert Abela can make the world forget that of all the people we could have chosen to represent us on the world stage we chose Joseph Muscat, twice. We choose a crook who justified the crooks who worked for him.
We chose Joseph Muscat who appeared on CNN, on Christian Amanpour’s program, hours after our country made the world’s headlines for allowing its best journalist to be killed, to lament how “harshly” she criticised him. We chose Joseph Muscat whose last interview on the world stage was the one where he smiled at John Sweeney as he spoke of Daphne’s murder.
You did this to avoid greylisting? What were you hoping for? The Nobel Prize, you bunch of worse than useless tossers. Now you leave us here looking back with fond nostalgia at the terrible days of 2012 when this was still a normal country and Joseph Muscat was a whippersnapper with a roadmap and the worst thing to strike our country were the chimes of midnight on a cheap arloġġ tal-lira.
We’ll never get 2012 again. Instead, we’ll get 2017 again. We’ll elect with acclamation Robert Abela as our representative on the world stage, someone with the same avarice and overstated estimation of his own qualities that Joseph Muscat had, but without even the perverse comfort that however undesirable the destination was, our prime minister was someone who knew where they wanted to go and how to get there.
What a fine mess.