The international Daphne Project continues to bring new leaked documents to light. As we debate them, is there a set of non-partisan principles we should expect politicians to be held to?
Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of two ground rules that everyone should be able to recognise as fair. They’re based on what is owed to society by public servants, even when they are wrongly accused.
First, anything that can be cleared up quickly in public, should be.
This means that accusations that are damaging Malta’s international reputation need to be addressed fully – when doing so is easy and when not doing so is capricious.
For example, leaked documents have shown that Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, had been considering the anonymous Dubai-based client, 17 Black, as a target client.
All that is known about this company is that it received unexplained payments of $1.6 million, with all the suspicious markings of money-laundering.
Schembri has admitted that his business group had indeed considered 17 Black in its plans. But, he says, he then never had anything to do with it. And Schembri’s explanation stopped there.
But surely there are other obvious questions crying out to be answered.
How did he (or his group) come to consider 17 Black to begin with? No one else knows anything about it. What does he know? Out of the vast number of companies in the world that he could have selected as a target company, how did he come to choose one of the most suspicious?
It should be easy to answer these questions quickly. And Schembri has a public duty to do so. It’s evident from the international reporting that his association with 17 Black – whether or not he actually traded with it – is making him and the entire government seem guilty by association.
The result: Malta is currently gravely exposed to reputational risk. There are potentially catastrophic consequences for our financial and gaming sectors.
Paradoxically, the more you’re convinced that Schembri is innocent of money-laundering, the more you should be outraged that he’s not being more forthcoming about the process by which he or his group came to consider 17 Black as a target client. Clearing the matter up should be easy. The costs of not doing so are exorbitant.
Anyone who says Schembri has no such duty, because he’s innocent until proven guilty, isn’t being tough minded. He’s just being soft in the head.
The argument here isn’t about Schembri’s rights at law. It’s about his civic duty as a public servant. Neglecting to be transparent isn’t a crime. But it is a gross dereliction of his public duty. Any government should allay market anxieties when it can.
The second principle we should all be able to agree on is this: new facts call for new explanations.
Right now, Konrad Mizzi is blatantly violating this principle. On Panamagate, he’s serving up old answers to new questions. And he has the nerve to say it’s the questions that are reheated.
It’s recently been revealed in leaked e-mails that his financial advisor, Karl Cini, listed the same notorious company, 17 Black, as a target client of Mizzi’s Panama company. Mizzi has said this e-mail was the result of a mistake by his advisor, who, in turn, denies behaving improperly.
Attributing mistakes to Cini is what Mizzi has done with respect to every leaked e-mail. The pile of mistakes has grown to incredible proportions. Each claimed mistake raises new questions, rather than settles old ones.
If you believe Mizzi, Cini’s mistakes include: seeking to open bank accounts in Mizzi’s name, without his knowledge; stating that Mizzi wanted to be involved in this or that business, also without his knowledge; and, now, even naming two target clients Mizzi says he had never heard of.
New facts call for new explanations. Right now, Konrad Mizzi is blatantly violating this principle
If you believe Mizzi, Cini did everything he was not supposed to do and, at the same time, neglected to do the one single thing he was meant to do: use the Panama company to manage Mizzi’s London property.
You’d imagine Mizzi would have been furious about all those mistakes. If the Egrant allegations are the greatest lie in Maltese political history, surely Cini’s confusions constitute the greatest tragi-comedy of errors.
They cost Mizzi the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. They damaged Labour’s reputation. They continue to inflict huge damage on Malta.
Yet what, after Panamagate, did Mizzi do? Did he sue for bad service? Did he at least insist Nexia BT admit its mistakes? No, he paid his financial advisors in full.
This is not old, reheated news. It’s recent. It calls for explanation. No one pays for bad service. They usually claim damages. Once more, this has nothing to do with deciding whether Mizzi should go to jail. That’s for a court to decide.
It’s another matter completely: whether what Mizzi has told the public adds up. It’s a Cabinet minister’s duty to explain his behaviour to the public. He works for us.
Let’s not conflate two separate issues. It’s not just his Panama company that requires explanation. It’s also his behaviour since the Panama company was discovered by the international press.
Instead of acting swiftly to clear suspicions, he has added to them. What he’s done has undermined what he has said.
Behaving suspiciously is not a crime; but it is politically reckless when the country’s reputation is at stake.
The more you think Mizzi is innocent of money-laundering, the more you should be furious with him for his odd behaviour and arrogance with journalists. Instead of making the problem go away, he is exacerbating it by behaving like a guilty man.
Once again, to change the issue into a matter of innocent-until-proven-guilty doesn’t show you’re tough-minded on matters of principle. It shows you’re feeble-minded about which principle is relevant.