Last night, a small number of MPs met with Justice Minister Jonathan Attard who is piloting the law which is all but abolishing temporary asset freezes for people charged with money laundering. They were going through what’s called ‘the committee stage’ which is when each individual article of the new law is debated individually and voted upon.

A quote often attributed to Bismarck goes that there are two things it is better not to allow the public to see being made: sausages and laws. I was in the room yesterday when the committee met and felt that squeamishness Bismarck anticipated. The bill is 31 pages long. Minutes before yesterday’s meeting started MPs received from the minister 18 pages of amendments to the text. And they were expected to vote on them there and then. Such is the way that the fates of the guilty and the innocent are decided.

I was there to watch something I fully expected but had to see with my own eyes.

Some brief background first. Temporary asset freezes are imposed on people accused of financial crimes. Basically, they freeze all your money and all your wealth and let you live on a small subsistence allowance and maybe allow you to continue to pay your children’s school fees and your mortgage, especially if you don’t live alone. You’re obviously presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But money is relatively easy to hide so asset freezes are a bit of a precautionary measure. The same system applies if you’re charged with drug trafficking.

Now “temporary” in the Maltese justice system is a very long time. You could be charged today and must wait a decade before a final determination of your case is made. That’s just unfair and a few court decisions ruled that the pain suffered by someone whose assets are frozen while in theory they are presumed innocent is totally out of proportion.

Instead of changing things to shorten the wait, the government is taking the easy way out and reducing the effectiveness of temporary asset freezes to the point where they are no more than a nuisance for the accused.

They’re not doing that for anyone presumed innocent who would have their assets frozen while awaiting trial. They will continue to freeze the assets of people defending themselves from a charge of drug trafficking.

Now some more context from outside Parliament. There is credible evidence which has been in the public domain for some time that suggests that Joseph Muscat might be expecting to face charges for bribery and money laundering over his involvement in the privatisation of three hospitals during and after he was prime minister.

With the law as it currently stands his assets would have to be frozen until a final determination on his case is made, presumably several years into the future.

We have suggested the real reason the government is changing the law is to make sure that such an inconvenience is not inflicted on Joseph Muscat.

The opposition yesterday challenged the minister with this. The charge was led by Karol Aquilina but I must say the front of opposition MPs, including Joe Giglio, Darren Carabott, and Adrian Delia, presented an eloquent and coherent resistance yesterday.

Karol Aquilina presented an amendment that would have excluded cases of corruption from the application of the change in the law. If you’re charged with corruption, then the current full application of temporary asset freezes would continue to happen as before.

Joe Giglio explained this to the minister. If you think drug trafficking is such a serious crime that you think you should continue to impose full asset freezes (which the opposition agrees with) then surely applying the same to corruption would send the signal that you do not tolerate corruption either. Giglio reminded the government MPs they had introduced a law removing time barring on the prosecution of politicians for corruption. Wouldn’t retaining asset freezes match the gravity of that approach?

What will not surprise you is the government voted down the opposition’s amendment. What I wanted to see for myself was how Jonathan Attard would justify this. I couldn’t put myself in his shoes and imagine what arguments I would put forward in his place. And when I heard his argument, I could see why.

He said drug trafficking is a heinous crime, punishable by life in prison in certain cases. It is, he said, a crime that has victims.

It is.

But the implication of that is truly horrendous. Jonathan Attard justifies a light touch on corruption because, he silently argues, it has no victims. This is how they propose to justify Joseph Muscat (and his associates) getting away with this. No one is harmed by their crimes so why should they be punished for it?

To forget Daphne Caruana Galizia, or to pretend to, when making the argument that corruption has no victims, genuinely horrifies me. To ignore once again the finding of an inquiry set up by the government itself that Daphne was killed because of the impunity cultivated by a government that sought to get away with corruption is to continue to cultivate that impunity.

But this goes beyond the normalisation and trivialisation of corruption. It is a big step down to go from not applying the law to removing it altogether. We are now going well beyond inaction in the fight against corruption. The state is disarming itself.

Robert Abela said this week that Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana have spent enough time on the reserves bench, and it is time for them to come back to politics. Robert Abela is saying that it is eminently forgivable to abuse power as an MP to defraud the public of a salary for no work. It is ok to come back from abusing power as a minister to defraud the public of a salary paid to an incompetent boyfriend. It is ok for people that have already abused their power and stolen public money to be in public life.

It’s clear that Robert Abela needs these people to support him if he’s going to defend Joseph Muscat. If he is going to argue that Joseph Muscat’s actions are excusable, justifiable even, Robert Abela can’t afford the alienation of politicians he has fired for less serious offences.

Where does that logic stop? Is Chris Cardona coming back? Is Konrad Mizzi? Are these people being brought back in so they’re on side when Robert Abela uses storm trooping politics to keep Joseph Muscat out of jail?

Jonathan Attard’s rhetoric asks if everybody is robbed by corrupt politicians, is anyone truly a victim? If Joseph Muscat stole from all of us, who of us has a right to demand he faces justice?

They truly turn the wrong into right.