This one is just over 20 minutes long. So put your earphones on and take the time.
I honestly don’t understand the argument about the supposed causes of the internal divisions in the PN or that it is being held hostage by Repubblika or the rest of the rubbish spewed in the last 48 hours on the same patterns we saw being spewed after similar preceding episodes.
Firstly, why are you blaming Repubblika or even those politicians in the PN who publicly expressed disapproval for the mess that broke out Saturday? Up to last Saturday the line taken by the PN on Pilatus Bank was that the evidence strongly showed the bank was an international money laundering operation and caused a lot of harm to Malta’s reputation.
The bank was licensed because Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri were friendly with its owner. It was licensed because the Iranian nationality of its owner was hidden using multiple St Kitts & Nevis passports issued to him by Henley & Partners, with whom Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri were also very close. It was licensed despite the fact that prior to opening the bank in Malta, its owner had had no banking experience. He instead headed an Iranian property development in Venezuela designed to bust international sanctions.
Pilatus Bank was protected from regulatory supervision with Keith Schembri’s intervention. Keith Schembri banked at Pilatus Bank receiving in his account laundered kickbacks from passports sold to Russians, an accusation he denies, but the evidence is compelling.
Pilatus Bank also helped a member of the family of the former dictator of Angola to launder his money. And the bank served two of the children of Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev laundering their ill-gotten money. They are also friends of Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri.
These are facts we would never have been made aware of had Daphne Caruana Galizia not reported on them. And from what we understand she would not have been able to cross-reference her information without a whistleblower from within the bank.
The whistleblower was outed in a national witch-hunt as Maria Efimova after her information also corroborated information given to Daphne Caruana Galizia that showed the bank handled illicit funds for Joseph and Michelle Muscat.
An inquiry into that allegation drew a blank but the inquiry was beset by well documented major failures and gaps that ignored evidence collected from several other investigations worldwide into the activities of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca that was alleged to have handled the paperwork for the Muscats together with their Malta accountants Brian Tonna and his firm.
So far two Attorneys General have refused to consider reopening the Egrant inquiry. The police chief has failed to act on a crucial conclusion of the inquiry completed four years ago that ordered that Karl Cini, a partner of Brian Tonna’s, be charged with perjury for lying to the inquiry about how the Egrant paperwork was drawn up and for whom.
I’m summarising all this because none of it made it to Joe Giglio’s intervention on Saturday. None at all. The only thing he spoke about was his reservations on the quality of the evidence given or suggested by a disgruntled clerk who worked at the bank which in any case should have just been the source of a tip-off and it should not ever have been and should never be incumbent on her to conduct and complete a major money laundering investigation big enough to shut down and prosecute an international bank.
The only thing that made it to Joe Giglio’s intervention was that he thought Maria Efimova was, as Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando put it today, a Russian conjurer of falsehoods. If the two were prosecuting a mediaeval trial they’d have called her the spawn of the devil, a witch who can say no truth.
When the facts they conveniently leave out demonstrate the opposite.
Up to Saturday the consistent line of the Nationalist Party had always been that it was unacceptable that the government allowed Pilatus Bank to be licensed, that it interfered to prevent regulatory action against it, and that its senior officials used it for their banking of allegedly illicit activities. And the position of the Nationalist Party has always been until last Saturday that all wrongdoers – the money launderers who owned and ran the bank and the corrupt clients who used it – should be investigated and punished for their crimes.
The PN’s position was never about an examination on whether Maria Efimova was saying the truth or not like some witch hunters throwing her into the lake and burning her as a witch if she failed to drown. The PN’s position up till last Saturday had been for all the evidence from all sources, starting from the Panama Papers that are intimately linked with the Egrant scandal, to be investigated properly by the authorities and action taken. This has never happened. The Egrant inquiry remains outstanding. The Panama Papers inquiry remains outstanding. The 17 Black inquiry remains outstanding. The bulk of the recommendations of the magistrate who concluded the Pilatus Bank inquiry remain gathering dust on shelves.
Malta’s authorities never expressed even a remote interest to discuss with Maria Efimova the evidence she claims to have in her possession. They have only ever spoken to her in connection with around €1,000 she is supposed to have spent for her personal use using a company credit card. Whether she did that or not – let’s assume she did – an international arrest warrant on that basis is disproportionate and clearly politically motivated. And Joe Giglio’s conclusions that the woman cannot be believed about anything she says because she squandered her credibility with the incident of the large hotel room bill is no better than condemning a woman for witchcraft because she once owned a black cat.
Without admitting what she was accused of, Maria Efimova accused the bank of not paying her salary. Two years after the fact the bank admitted she was right and cut her a check under duress from Malta’s department of labour to pay her for the money she had been chasing.
That does not prove Pilatus Bank was a money laundering operation. But I’m willing to bet the directors of Pilatus Bank, endowed with the supreme benefit of hindsight, would have loved to have paid Maria Efimova her salary on time rather than let her retribution fall on them like a ton of European Central Bankers and, hopefully one day, arrest warrants, trials, and prison sentences.
Whistleblowers are complicated things. They are often motivated by public spiritedness and overwhelming conscience. They are just as often motivated by anger and a desire to have a perceived injustice visited tenfold on the perpetrators who hurt them. The point is, in pursuit of justice, it does not matter what motivates them. It does not matter how the truth emerges. What matters is that once the truth is known justice is served.
That is why whistleblower laws should, as ours doesn’t, protect truth-sayers without the need of the blessing of people and authorities who risk being harmed by what whistleblowers can reveal.
Until Saturday that too was the position of the PN.
That position predated the existence of Repubblika. Repubblika did not dictate it, it did not brow beat the PN into it, Repubblika wasn’t even there when the PN consistently and repeatedly spoke in this way.
It was on Saturday that it appeared to all that the PN had radically changed its mind and reversed its, up to then, incontrovertibly consistent position. The PN presented its shadow home minister who in a manner of minutes, rather casually and flippantly threw out the PN’s stand of 6 years since the Panama scandal broke.
Never mind his thinking on Maria Efimova for a moment. It is naive to let an expert lawyer dangle a red herring and to follow it to distraction. What really happened last Saturday was that the owners and directors of Pilatus Bank were suddenly represented as innocent victims of an evil swindler. We were told, in a tone that says we cannot be forgiven for not seeing how obviously self-evident it is, that their bank was literally shut down for no reason and their claim for something like €90 million in damages is justified because the government shut the doors on a clean, law-abiding business directed by people so good and honest that they were paid up members of Din l-Art Ħelwa. I kid you not. He dropped Din l-Art Ħelwa’s name.
Joe Giglio spoke in the interests of the bank’s directors who may, as he claims, no longer be paying a retainer but are still chasing you, dear tax-paying, law-abiding citizen, for around €90 million as compensation for their lost business. Joe Giglio suggested that saying he was doing this because they were his clients amounted to intimidation.
I don’t know about that. What I do know is that while it horrifies me to think that he would do this for the clients that pay him, the only worse thing for me is to try to think that he’s willing to do this for free: to happily let criminals get away with it even when he doesn’t have the excuse that he is exercising his professional duty as a lawyer of doing his best to act in their best interest.
Now that that’s restated let me turn to the people who believe they mean well when they say that Repubblika should not expect to dictate policies to the PN. We expect no such thing of course. But no one should expect us to switch our positions on things just because the PN does so.
I could say that would be childish, but I have learnt from being a father to some seriously opinionated children that shifting positions for convenience is not a childish characteristic at all. Rather it is cynical, deceptive, and, frankly, dishonest, an entirely adult thing to do.
We have spent the better part of 6 years of our lives insisting that evidence of corruption must be properly investigated, witnesses protected and heard, and action against the culprits taken. Are we now expected to stop saying so because the PN has changed its mind?
Of course, there was that thing Bernard Grech said more than 24 hours later, that Joe Giglio’s remarks about this subject “do not reflect the PN’s position”, which, though it was meant to reassure us the PN still thinks criminals should go to prison was seen by many, starting with Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, as an attempt to pander to me and likeminded people (qlafat he called us, which literally translates as caulkers, but is a manner of insulting someone in the vernacular), but remains, to me at least, an extremely problematic statement. Is the Leader of the Opposition saying here that the shadow home minister has gone rogue when speaking publicly on the home policy of his party?
Is Bernard Grech saying that when Joe Giglio, the party spokesman for home affairs, speaks about home affairs we should not assume he is speaking the position of the party he is the spokesman for? Because if that’s what he’s saying things are going to be difficult not just for Repubblika but for anyone in this country even remotely interested to know what the PN’s position on home issues is. Do we need to ask Joe Giglio to tell us what hat he’s wearing before we understand if he is or isn’t at the time of speaking, speaking for the party he is a spokesman for?
Bernard Grech told us we should separate in our minds Joe Giglio the professional lawyer from Joe Giglio the parliamentarian. Quite apart from the fact that frankly that’s something Bernard Grech should be telling Joe Giglio not the rest of the country. How are we supposed to do that? Does he change ties?
I mean if Joe Giglio is standing in front of a judge in his toga with some handcuffed low life by his side and he’s arguing for bail I could, not without difficulty, understand that in that context he would not be professing party policy but purely his client’s interests. Even to that there are limits. If his low-life client is alleged to be a violent rapist and, in his defence, Joe Giglio were to argue that violent rapists should not, as a rule, face prison time, his position on behalf of his client will still reflect on his position as shadow home minister.
But why speculate on what he might do when we have the extraordinary case of what he did do?
Not wearing a toga, not standing in front of a judge, not having the low-lifes in this case in handcuffs beside him because in any case, to our complete disgust given what we know a magisterial inquiry has concluded about them, they have never actually been arrested, on Saturday Joe Giglio was giving an interview to a journalist on the radio. That is not a normal platform for criminal defence lawyers to argue the case for their clients. It is, however, an entirely typical platform for politicians to explain their party’s policies and to reply to questions about those policies put to them by journalists.
There was Andrew Azzopardi asking questions to Joe Giglio. I don’t presume to be inside Andrew Azzopardi’s head but I’m willing to bet that it would not have occurred to Andrew Azzopardi to wonder for a moment whether Joe Giglio was being a PN spokesman on home affairs as he was asking him questions about matters of home policy. Nor would it have occurred to most listeners, me included, to wonder whether the moment Joe Giglio reversed, with mockery and cynicism, the policies, and convictions his party propagated for the past 6 years, that they should not for a moment take this as the view of the party they were told to believe he was the chief spokesman of.
Bernard Grech’s remarks yesterday were oddly unsatisfying. It felt like he wanted to distance himself from what Joe Giglio did and to retain the policies Joe Giglio had discarded. But it also felt like he wanted to blame Repubblika for what Joe Giglio did. It’s like we should never have complained.
That’s so incredibly odd.
During the past 48 hours journalists rang us up telling us if there was any truth to what sources they did not identify to us told them: that Repubblika was meeting over the weekend with Nationalist politicians or ex-politicians to prepare the launch of a new political party. I was on the beach in Għadira dusting sand off my phone while these “rumours” said I was plotting a partisan revolution. It was like denying having won the lottery. It’s just not true. Never occurred to us.
These rumours spread because it’s true there are people who wish there were other parties. It’s also true that a considerably smaller number of people might genuinely wish Repubblika was such a party.
But what matters here is why such baseless rumours start. They are started by people who realise that it becomes hard for them to accuse others of ‘ulterior motives’ if there are none. So they invent the ulterior motives. Why don’t we behave like good loyalists and shut up about it when someone like Joe Giglio publicly defecates on party policy and if Bernard Grech’s distancing is to be taken at face value embarrasses his party leader in the process?
Why don’t we close ranks with the PN and pretend all is ok even when a senior politician who is very obviously paid or had very obviously been paid by crooks uses his political influence and authority to represent and help them pursue their interests?
They want people to assume it’s because we want a party of our own because the people who spread those rumours measure us with their yardstick. They’d rather people thought that than that at least we believed what we said to be true and that was a good enough reason for us to say it.
When we spoke and when we speak about Konrad Mizzi, and Chris Cardona, and Keith Schembri, and Joseph Muscat, and Robert Abela, and about how they conduct themselves and use their political authority to further the interests of their accomplices, partners, wards, clients, gift-givers, kick-back payers, and sundry friends, we don’t do that because we are eager to take their place as ministers and MPs and people of power.
We do it because we live in this country, because we’re citizens, because we want this to be a democracy, and we want this country’s government to be run in everyone’s interest based on laws that have no regard to the wealth and the resources of people who secretly (or, as in Joe Giglio’s case, openly) pay politicians.
We don’t think that people who step into political life do so out of greed, ambition, or in pursuit of something wrong. We are grateful for public servants, the honest and selfless ones who work for us citizens. We expect to disagree with them on some policies and agree on other policies, but we will support them unreservedly for working, in the way they think best, in the interest of public good.
Just because we choose not to be in a political party or to form one does not mean we think that whoever does that is, for some reason, inherently bad.
But we are unimpressed by people in partisan politics who seem to think that anyone with any opinion on their policies and conduct who is not also in partisan politics, is out to take their job and should somehow be shut up.
It is also exquisitely ironic that people who work in political parties consider it a scandal worth spreading to discredit their critics who do not work in political parties by accusing them of something they, of all people, should not think is a bad thing to do. They don’t accuse us of robbing banks or feeding on babies. They accuse us of, shock horror, of wanting to set up a political party. We don’t want to do it. But is it such a bad thing?
The people who spread those rumours over the last 48 hours in the hope that some journalist somewhere writes the completely fantastical story that a new party is forming, are people who seem terribly insecure about their jobs. They are people who only understand the world in twos, that they’d respect us if we belonged to the Labour Party and took our turn to mock them for their slip ups, but who fear us as outsiders dictating terms because we are not a political party. They want us to be one so that they can beat us and outnumber us and thereby prove, to themselves if to no one else, that we’re wrong and they’re right.
It’s the same logic of the Labour Party: purification by ballot. We’re bigger therefore we alone must be right.
Newsbook reported Bernard Grech yesterday saying the PN is the only opposition in Malta. To borrow what the great Tywin Lannister told his petulant grandson after insisting he gets his way because he’s the king, “any man who must say, ‘I am the King’, is no true king.”
To prove you are the King, don’t talk. Rule.
To prove you are the opposition, don’t talk. Oppose.
That’s the psychological and operational barrier you haven’t crossed over yet and that’s why people whose support you feel entitled to like an inheritance from all your predecessors but one, are instead withholding their support and wondering very much aloud if there’s anything left your party could do to ever convince them to consider coming back to it.
People realise you’re the opposition not because you tell them you are, but by being it. This was the real problem the last 48 hours.
Moviment Graffitti cleaned up the Blue Lagoon shoreline. The Malta Police Association called for the resignation of Victoria Buttigieg after she pardoned a man who shot at their colleagues because they disturbed him while he was robbing a bank. Repubblika called time on Angelo Gafà after two years in which he achieved nothing in the way of justice for the pile of corruption cases accumulated over the last 6 years or so.
While that was happening Joe Giglio said he trusted Victoria Buttigieg and Angelo Gafà to do their job properly despite all evidence that they weren’t. And he waived his royal hand dismissing NGOs as a waste of time and space in comparison with him and political parties.
When he said “the party is greater than any other NGO” he didn’t ask us to see him as a person with a personal opinion (as he would in his muddy clarification on Facebook later). Nor did he ask his listeners to think of him as a lawyer in his profession rather than a politician speaking on the radio. He was speaking for and as the party.
Was he really? Will he be a professional lawyer or a politician next time he sits with a handcuffed client to his right in Victoria Buttigieg’s office to negotiate a plea bargain? Will he be a professional lawyer or a politician next time he sits with a handcuffed client to his right in Angelo Gafà’s office discussing police bail and negotiating charges?
We don’t need to be another political party to acquire the right to call this bullshit out. Notice, indeed, that the Labour Party (the other political party) has not called it out and will not call it out.
It suits them well that while Joe Giglio discredits the witness who brought down his clients at Pilatus Bank, the same witness who had a hand in the downfall of Labour’s leader and erstwhile invincible prime minister is implicitly discredited for their purposes as well.
This is just what we stood to denounce the day Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed, the blatant convergence in the interests of politicians, self-described businessmen, and criminals sacrificing truth and justice for profit and power.
We swore, after Daphne was killed, that we would no longer stand idly by as we watched this happen. What made you think we’d break that vow now just so Joe Giglio wouldn’t look compromised and Bernard Grech wouldn’t look underemployed?