“She paid the price but there was somebody who was cruel in that case,” Prime Minister Robert Abela lamented with Andrew Azzopardi. “Who was cruel,” Azzopardi asked. “Read the report and you’ll know, she should never have been referred to the police,” Abela retorted cryptically.
Abela was referring to Justyne Caruana, another of his fallen angels he wants to rehabilitate. “Until now, there’s only one thing stopping her returning to public life, the vindictive action she suffered from whoever was interested in butchering her,” he continued obscurely.
The interviewer kept prodding. “But she made a political mistake… so why didn’t you keep her? Who was cruel?” Eventually, Abela cracked: “I’m referring to when whoever judged her, the Office of the Standards Commissioner, so there won’t be any ambiguity, decided to send her case to the police, an obscene decision.”
The man who keeps insisting the institutions are working is now turning on them when they do. He’s intimidating the magistrate leading the Vitals inquiry. He’s recklessly attacking the standards commissioner –not the one he chose, of course. That one’s doing just fine rejecting the vast majority of complaints and refusing to investigate.
No, Abela’s referring to the previous commissioner. To make sure everybody understood who he was referring to, Abela quickly added, regarding the decision to recommend referral of the report to the police, that “it wasn’t necessarily taken by George Hyzler, it’s possible there was somebody else behind it”.
Abela not only publicly chastised Hyzler for his “obscene” decision, his “vindictive action”, but then proceeded to cast doubts on Hyzler’s independence, alleging, without any evidence, that Hyzler was pushed into making that decision by others.
This is the prime minister of a democratic European state denouncing the standards commissioner for sanctioning a minister in his cabinet. He did it in a public interview where the commissioner had no means of defending himself. This is not the behaviour of a democratic leader. These are tactics of autocrats.
“Well, George Hyzler signed that decision and he should carry responsibility for it,” Abela quickly added, heaping scorn on the former commissioner.
Hyzler was right to recommend to the parliamentary standards committee to refer the report to the police commissioner. He conducted a thorough investigation that revealed shocking levels of abuse by Caruana which, in the commissioner’s judgement, potentially constitute breaches of criminal law. That detailed report is supported by two large volumes of incontrovertible evidence.
Caruana gave her close friend, Danjel Bogdanovic, a part-time contract worth €5,000 per month, purportedly to write a report on the National Sports School. The terms of reference were tailor-made for Bogdanovic. Nobody else stood a chance.
Justyne Caruana should face a criminal investigation
Caruana knew full well that Bogdanovic had neither the qualifications nor the competence to write any report.
That report was written by Caruana’s consultant, Paul Debattista, and not Bogdanovic, “with the knowledge and blessing of the minister”.
Caruana knew Bogdanovic hadn’t written the report, yet, in her testimony she insisted it was Bogdanovic who had written it with some help from Debattista.
“This case represents a higher level of favouritism,” the report reads, “because the contract was awarded with the sole aim for the favoured individual (Bogdanovic) to earn more money, whether the work was done or not. This individual, who was close to the minister, was being paid to write the report in a short time while having a full-time job, was a player-coach after hours and, at the same time, was following a course to obtain a football coaching licence A. Therefore, this case not only breaches ethics but may well constitute breach of criminal law.”
The minister chose Bogdanovic, with whom she was alleged to have a relationship. When asked about it, she denied it under oath: “I didn’t, I didn’t, friendship yes.” She also denied having picked Bogdanovic herself, claiming that she had consulted Joe Caruana Curran and Bjorn Vassallo.
Both testified that they weren’t consulted. In fact, they had serious reservations about Bogdanovic. When challenged, Caruana claimed she had spoken to “other people” but was unable to mention a single one.
Despite knowing full well that Bogdanovic had done very little or no work, Caruana’s consultant, Debattista, drew up an invoice for Bogdanovic to get paid €5,900. Another invoice for a further €9,440 was never paid because the contract was summarily terminated once leaks of the abuse had reached the media.
Caruana abusively recruited her close friend and, with the help of her ministry staff, engineered a phantom part-time job for him. That job would have cost the State €15,000. When she was caught, she perjured herself before the commissioner.
Every effort was made to conceal the facts. The commissioner was only given a scanned copy of a PDF version of the report to conceal the true authorship.
Bogdanovic claimed he hadn’t kept an electronic copy of the report. He knew nothing of the contents of that report. He couldn’t even tell the commissioner what software he used to draw up the cover page of that report.
Caruana testified that Bogdanovic wrote it but needed help because the report was to be submitted to cabinet and Bogdanovic didn’t know how cabinet worked.
Caruana defrauded the nation of thousands of euros to benefit her close friend. She then committed perjury in order to conceal her abuse and entangled her consultant and also her permanent secretary, Frank Fabri in her devious efforts to conceal the truth.
Hyzler was right.
His detailed report, substantiated by volumes of documents, showed that Caruana abused public funds, committed perjury and engaged in flagrant attempts at perverting justice.
Those are all crimes.
Caruana should face a criminal investigation.
There is nothing cruel, nothing obscene about that decision. Only somebody lacking a moral compass would lambast that decision.
Disturbingly, that man is our prime minister. If it were up to him, Caruana would be back in cabinet.
Kevin Cassar is a professor of surgery.