Joseph Muscat’s guns have been blazing for some time now. Having had his house searched by the police as part of a magistrate’s inquiry, having his suspicious receipts from the people he gave three public hospitals to exposed by a newspaper and investigated by the police, he knows it is only a matter of time until someone screws the courage they need to prosecute him.

He still has friends and allies in institutions and around them. The network he built during his 7 years of empire is still strong and able to protect him and ensure his impunity. They are committed to him by more than loyalty. They shared in the rewards and are compromised by their roles in his schemes.

They still need him and he needs them.

When someone from Joseph Muscat’s inner circle gets into trouble, Joseph Muscat’s frayed nerves twitch and quiver. His reaction to charges against the husband of his cousin and inner circle favourite Frederick Azzopardi betrays Joseph Muscat’s deepest concerns.

Frederick Azzopardi is not being charged with corruption or bribery or profiteering. He is being accused of being a bully and ignoring the law and the public authority set up by the law to enforce it.

In 2019, as head of the road building unit, he directed workers to ignore enforcement orders and enforcement officers of the environment protection agency who wanted a destructive road widening project in a protected valley halted.

Frederick Azzopardi at the time decided his own authority was higher than the law and his public employment more important than anyone working at the environment agency. It is probable, though by no means certain, that Frederick Azzopardi had sought and acquired political clearance for his actions. It is possible, though not certain, that Joseph Muscat told him to ignore the environment agency and go ahead and do as he pleases.

This is a reflection of Joseph Muscat’s time in government. It was a tyranny of personal rule. In place of the rule of law, Joseph Muscat ruled by personal authority, justifying his illegalities by his own judgement of public need. That is what he did yesterday while arguing in defence of Frederick Azzopardi. They say the road widening was urgently needed and therefore it did not matter what the law protecting valleys and trees said. What Joseph Muscat (and Frederick Azzopardi) said was what mattered.

Joseph Muscat lashed out yesterday. He lashed out at “the institutions” who dared question the illegalities conducted in his name. In this case he would have been referring to the environment protection agency who opened the case and the police who investigated it. Implicitly his remarks are also a warning to the prosecutor’s office which will be arguing the case and the magistrate who will be hearing it.

All of those, Joseph Muscat charged yesterday, are feeble cowards too afraid of “the usual people” who pressure institutions to act against him and his cronies to simply do what Joseph Muscat thinks they should be doing: nothing.

Joseph Muscat argues that all these public officials and agents allow themselves to act under duress, persecuting Frederick Azzopardi to avoid being persecuted themselves.

So, Joseph Muscat says, it is his turn to intimidate them. He says he has thousands at his command which he will rally to show these officials and these institutions that his voice carries further and louder.

If nothing else, this post by Joseph Muscat, demonstrates yet again the extent of his contempt for the rule of law. His might is right policy and his logic that institutions act or fail to act based on how effectively they are being intimidated into submission shows just how profoundly undemocratic he is.

It shows something deeper as well. It shows just how afraid he is. Frederick Azzopardi is no longer working in government. He is in the private sector now and the last thing he needs is the inconvenience of criminal proceedings over his conduct in office. Joseph Muscat is worried about much more than some inconvenience and embarrassment to Frederick Azzopardi.

Frederick Azzopardi is from within the inside circle. He knows, to use a metaphor, where the bodies are buried. He administered hundreds of millions in EU-funded contracts which the EU would love to be sure were all properly spent without any kickbacks paid out along the way.

Joseph Muscat, of course, is right that just because Frederick Azzopardi has been charged it does not at all mean that our institutions are effective enough to see the case against him through. We know that from the weakness of other cases handled by people in institutions who are indeed trying to please everyone and get nothing done while trying to look busy.

But you never know. Joseph Muscat certainly doesn’t. What if this prosecution is successful? What would that show, apart from the arrogance and illegality of a government official acting outside the limits of the law?

It would show that Joseph Muscat is no longer able to guarantee impunity to his accomplices and his associates, past and present. It would breach the aura of infallibility that he still enjoys. It would warn the other cronies who know where the metaphorical bodies are buried that they may need to find their own way of protecting themselves, that they may need to cut deals to save their own skin.

And then it’s no longer about whether environment laws apply to government agencies widening roads. Then it’s about crimes with greater consequences to the captured perpetrators.

That’s why Joseph Muscat’s guns are blazing.