Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi have the dubious honour of joining a US travel ban list which includes “gross human rights violators” from Iran and a Honduran president suspected of taking bribes from narco-traffickers.

These two former Maltese government officials were in December barred from entering the US due to their involvement in “significant corruption” linked to the power station project, a key plank in Labour 2013 election drive.

The US periodically publicly bars corrupt foreign actors and human rights violators from its shores in a bid to promote anti-corruption efforts and human rights. According to information on the State Department’s website, over 140 people have been publicly banned from travel to the US under the 7031(c) provision.

Among this year’s alumni are Iranian Islamic revolutionary guard interrogators Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari, who were banned from the US for their involvement in “gross human rights violation”, including the torture of political prisoners and persons detained during protests held in Iran.

Crimes committed across the globe

Former Honduran president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa graduated to the travel-ban list in July for accepting bribes from the narco-trafficking organisation Los Cachiros, in exchange for political favours.

His wife, former first lady, Rosa Lobo, joined him on the list for her participation in significant corruption through fraud and misappropriation of public funds for her personal benefit.

Much like Schembri and Mizzi, the US noted in its announcement about Sosa’s ban that he has not yet been convicted for his crimes, while his wife has been released from prison awaiting trial.

Other recent graduates include former Namibian ministers Bernhardt Esau and Sakeus Shanghal for corruption and Paraguayan congress member Ulises Rolando Quintana Maldonado for acts that facilitated transnational organised crime.

Europeans barred from US

In Europe, Ukrainian oligarch and former public official Ihor Kolomoyskyy will be keeping Mizzi and Schembri company on the travel-ban list due to his “corrupt acts” that the US says undermined Ukraine’s rule of law.

The US periodically publicly bars corrupt foreign actors from its shores

Five Bulgarian officials were in June banned for influence peddling and corruption, including exerting influence over key institutions and sectors in Bulgaria.

Sali Berisha, a former Albanian president and prime minister, was similarly added to the list in May for corrupt acts and misappropriation.

Among his list of sins, the US state department emphasised how Berisha’s “own rhetoric” demonstrates he is willing to protect himself, his family members and his political allies at the expense of independent investigations, anti-corruption efforts and accountability measures.

Labour’s skeletons

The Labour Party’s elite have over the years faced similar accusations of protecting their own at the expense of justice and Malta’s reputation.

Schembri and Mizzi, who deny any wrongdoing, were first implicated in potential corruption in 2016 upon the publication of the Panama Papers leak.

Then-prime minister Joseph Muscat had carried out a token cabinet reshuffle, stripping Mizzi of energy portfolio on paper while keeping him in charge of all energy projects and other major public-private projects that are mired in corruption red flags.

Muscat was bestowed with the honour of being named as the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project ‘Corruption Man of the Year’ in 2019, joining figures like Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev.

The former prime minister failed to ever take any action against Schembri, with his right-hand man retaining his role right up until his November 2019 arrest and interrogation in connection with journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Schembri was released without charge two days later. He denies any involvement in the murder.

Yorgen Fenech, whose company 17 Black was set to pump millions into the offshore structures set up by Mizzi and Schembri, is awaiting trial for his alleged complicity and financing of the murder.

Fenech denies the murder charges.

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