May 28, 2024. Joseph Muscat is charged in a court of law by the Republic of Malta for fraud at the expense of the government of Malta, which, until four years ago, he was the head of. That, perhaps, is the most significant detail of the events of the last week, and, while we acknowledge that nobody has been proven guilty of anything yet, we should stop to reflect about what all this means.

The charges were laid out by the Republic of Malta. It wasn’t the journalists, or the activists who were charging Muscat. This was an act of the State.

For me, that was a moment of pride. Not for some personal or collegial achievement. But of belonging to a country that has the courage and ability to go as far as overlooking an individual’s popularity, resources, connections and influence and to sit him in the dock against his will and force him to listen to the charges laid out against him.

Until now, we had to doubt whether so much was even possible, even as we demanded it in unending street marches.

It was also a moment of shame. For, though, in 2013, we could all have mistaken Muscat for a burger-guzzling social liberal, free of collectivist dogma and unburdened by the years of compromise of the government he was replacing, in 2017, he was re-elected on the back of the blinding evidence in the Panama Papers.

We hired a man we knew to be a crook to serve a second term as our prime minister and his indictment is an embarrassment to us all. Or at least it should be.

Muscat is anything but alone in this. He is head of a family of generals, engineers, button men and foot soldiers. The case brought to court on Tuesday is against layers upon layers of perpetrators, enablers, hangers-on and a smattering of ambivalent mandarins who neglected their duty to prevent what happened.

On top, the triumvirate of Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

Next, the then health minister and the then finance minister, who allowed public hospitals to be abandoned and public money to be siphoned off while they looked away.

Next, bureaucrats whose job it was to ensure compliance with the rules, which they did not do.

Next, the so-called investors and entrepreneurs because, for every minister who is bribed, there’s a business breaking all rules of fair competition by bribing them.

Next, their lawyers, accountants, hired board directors and auditors, whose duty it was to guard against unlawfulness, not serve it enthusiastically.

It was admirable to see charges laid not just against individuals but against an infrastructure of corruption, a multi-storeyed edifice designed for industrial-scale embezzlement of the people’s money at the expense of the people’s health.

It was also chaos. It is sad to witness how woefully unprepared for this scale of racketeering our justice system is. We do not have the procedures,the resources, not even a courtroom big enough to handle what the Italians would call a maxiprocesso, this sort of giant trial against organised crime.

It is sad to witness how woefully unprepared for this scale of racketeering our justice system is- Manuel Delia

Crammed in a chamber designed for trying one or two persons at a time, two dozen defendants, represented by an army, treble their number, of lawyers, battled with four prosecutors on bewilderingly obscure technicalities. It was an Aesopian arm-wrestle between an elephant and some smaller mammal.

The chaos of the indictment of the second day of the proceedings when 11 hours of wrangling were flushed down the abyss of futility is an indication of what lies ahead. How can you expect procedures, designed to charge an individual, to work without inevitable catastrophic error when processing 30 at one go?

We have clamoured for an anti-mafia law for years now, since we realised in the horror of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia that this is the plague of our country. By now, we should have had an anti-mafia prosecution service, special anti-mafia trial procedures, an anti-mafia special chamber.

We’d be fighting these bastards with something like equality of arms. Instead, we have four underpaid prosecutors, headed by a compromised and remarkably invisible attorney general who hasn’t served a day of her life in a criminal court, to somehow keep their head above water as they’re being pulled under by practically the entire local community of criminal lawyers in private practice stacked up against them on the other side.

Between the two uneven sides in court on Tuesday, there was piled two metres high a heap on about 25 square metres of courtroom floor a precarious mountain of cardboard boxes, each numbered by hand, flanked by around a dozen computer towers in wraparound cellophane. That was the case for the prosecution, a nightmare the Victorian era authors of our procedures could never have had. They lived in times when fraud on this scale was not even imaginable. We prosecute the crimes of the 21st century with the forensic methods of the 19th and then we wonder at all the acquittals.

The republic may have had the courage to indict Muscat and his very large gang but courage alone wins no battles, and our hope as spectators will not make up for the fact that this army has no boots and the supply lines behind it are in disarray.

Without prejudice to the presumption of their innocence and judging only the charges rather than the people who will be defending themselves from them, the indictment of the hospitals swindle speaks of the worst of us: greed, malice, hypocrisy, treachery.

And, outside the courtroom, where the crowd cheered the accused comparing them with Christ, there was unmitigated stupidity at the service of the equivocating manipulation of the leaders who called them there. And completely absent from the proceedings Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg and Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà, whose conspicuous dereliction of duty is no longer amusing.

And, yet, there’s no reason to think this evil is a national affliction.

Caruana Galizia and many others who followed in her path documented and exposed these crimes. Despite wilful police inaction, civil society activists battled in court to have an inquiry started. The inquiry was conducted with thoroughness and diligence.

In court this week, despite the threats of lynching, magistrates, prosecutors, police officers, court officials went about the business of the republic without fear or favour, outwardly unperturbed by the import of what they were doing.

I don’t know where this long road we’re on will get to. I only know how far we’ve come since we started walking it. We’ve come further than Muscat ever imagined we would that day he tattooed on his arm that most ironic of self-given misnomers: Invictus.

We’ll see.

May 28, 2024. So fair and foul a day I have not seen.

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