The Egrant matter is not settled. And the frantic effort being made to get everyone to shut up about it simply serves to highlight it as unfinished business. Two weeks since the amateur dramatics enacted at Castille, the injured parties have gone on the attack with a deafening response. And yet the carpet bombing, the paratroopers and the tanks are proving a tad too much for many.
The carpet bombing started with the coordinated bullying masquerading as reporting on the three TV stations. Journalists from across the media landscape were shamed into scenes of confession straight out of Stalinist show trials. “We have betrayed the great Joseph. The truth is he’s unimpeachable.”
The paratroopers were led by Michelle Muscat and Adrian Delia who went on the interview circuit while Joseph Muscat kept up his busy travelling schedule.
Michelle Muscat did a Victor Frankenstein: she resurrected Daphne Caruana Galizia only to make her watch while she danced on her grave. Adrian Delia tried to fire anyone who had ever uttered the word Egrant only to backtrack hurriedly when he realised he’d be the only person left standing in his own party.
The tanks are the select segments of the redacted inquiry report serialised in Malta Today, the newspaper that can be relied on to carry government spin unquestioningly.
But the government will find fewer people than it hoped changing their opinion of Joseph Muscat’s integrity or lack thereof. Shock and awe convince no one.
Peter Grech, the Attorney General, needed no carpet bombing. The law expects him to review inquiries of this nature, and if any doubts or queries remain outstanding send them back to the magistrate for further clarification. Instead he forwarded the entire 1,500 pages straight to the subject of the inquiry and before a speed reader could scan the table of contents, Joseph Muscat had pushed the conclusions into the public domain. Then the Attorney General sat down to read the tome.
He found that the authenticity of the documents sustaining the allegation that Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat had been dismissed on the back of the opinion of a respected calligraphist and a statement filed in Panama by Jaqueline Alexander, the alleged signatory.
Alexander’s statement put into question the credibility of Maria Efimova, like her a junior employee with the respective employers caught in this storm. Efimova could not with certainty say whether an Arabic company had the article ‘El’ included in its name, and testifying in the middle of a political storm in a strange country with a prime minister who had just accused her of espionage, confused dates of meetings six months earlier. She could not even remember the date of the previous year’s Easter. I know you can.
But Alexander’s quality as a witness does not appear to have been assessed. That her signature appears on the documents of more than 8,000 companies, and that she was listed as director of all of them, was not taken into account. Nor that she habitually signed on blank paper for legal documents to be printed over her signature. Nor that she signed a power of attorney document for a man who had been dead two years. Nor that she was denied bail by the Panama courts while under investigation for organised crime and money laundering.
Granted the expert opinion that, no matter her character, the signature of her name on the evidence is not by her hand. On that the inquiry consulted a firm that had become insolvent by the time the report was published. Not necessarily a reflection on the eligibility of the expert employed by that company.
Fraud and forgery were a mainstay of Mossack Fonseca. Was this evaluated in the inquiry?
Perhaps, however, the alleged forgery should have been put in context. The allegation was the documents were issued and administered by Mossack Fonseca to determine the ultimate beneficial owner of a Panama company they set up. When the Panama Papers story broke, Mossack Fonseca admitted it had no records of the real ownership of 75 per cent of the companies on its books. There are records in the public domain of correspondence between Mossack Fonseca and its intermediaries discussing the creation of fraudulent back-dated documents to make it look like they knew who the companies belonged to.
Correspondence shows Mossack Fonseca or its intermediaries found nominees who agreed to be fraudulently listed as owners of other people’s companies.
Fraud and forgery were a mainstay of Mossack Fonseca. It was their USP. Was this evaluated in the inquiry?
The Attorney General will have read that Brian Tonna for a while appeared to have been the ultimate beneficiary of Egrant, though he never gave a satisfactory answer to the questions why was it opened and why was it closed. Meantime, his firm were caught disposing of huge piles of shredded paper outside their office around the time of the Panama leaks.
Recently leaked correspondence showed that Mossack Fonseca had refused a request from Tonna’s partner Karl Cini to confirm that ownership was never transferred to Michelle Muscat.
All this came out of Pilatus Bank. Efimova testified to matters in the inquiry over a year ago not confirmed until the bank chairman Ali Sadr was indicted in New York. The existence of a document repository in the bank’s kitchen, so long denied, was confirmed in the inquiry findings.
Pilatus Bank used banking software that some have argued could be manipulated to leave transactions unrecorded and to have records destroyed. The fact that Pilatus Bank was owned and run by an indicted bank fraud who for years pumped nine-figure sums from Iran to Venezuela under the noses of the US authorities that are meant to stop him should also colour the appreciation of what their software can hide.
The inquiry consulted the manufacturers of the software themselves who may have a somewhat biased view about the fraud-proof reliability of their product. The inquiry also consulted a shell company that had been set up only a few weeks previously by a couple famous for motivational videos but not software.
The inquiry found that CCTV footage proved Ali Sadr walked out of the bank the night the Egrant story broke holding at least one document he had not been carrying when he first went in.
The inquiry also confirmed what has been denied for so long, that Nexia BT’s Karl Cini set up companies for Mizzi and Schembri at the same time as Egrant was set up.
Finally, the inquiry stated, with or without the context above, it could not find reasons to conclude Joseph Muscat or Michelle Muscat owned Egrant. The terms of reference of the inquiry were drawn up by its suspect just as the publication of its results are being managed by him.
Even if, for argument’s sake, the outcome of insufficient evidence to prosecute may be the right one, the Attorney General should consider exercising his discretion at law and send the inquiry back to the magistrate, if these matters have not been assessed. They certainly don’t appear to have been from the fraction we’ve been allowed to see.
€1.2 million are supposed to have been spent on this inquiry.
A little more for the magistrate to fly to Panama and New York and sit across from Jaqueline Alexander and Ali Sadr to make a proper assessment of their credibility won’t break the bank.