When one speaks of curiosity killing the cat, one is usually warning that inquisitiveness can lead to dangerous situations. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat seems to be very aware of that, especially where his closest aide, Keith Schembri, is involved.
A magistrate has just decreed that documents before her gave credence to a request for an inquiry to preserve evidence emanating from the Panama Papers. She ordered the evidence in question to form part of another magisterial inquiry into the ownership of 17 Black, which is owned by the CEO of the Tumas Group, an investor in the Electrogas power station. The Dubai company had planned to pay money to the Panama companies owned by Mr Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.
When asked by the media about the decree, Dr Muscat said nothing had changed, merely that the matter would now be tackled by another magistrate and, therefore, one would have to await the outcome of that inquiry.
This newspaper then pointed out to the Prime Minister that a court has confirmed that Mr Schembri falls within the remit of the 17 Black inquiry. Given that, last year, Mr Schembri had admitted of having draft business plans with 17 Black, did Dr Muscat ask him what those plans were and why make such plans while holding political office?
The Prime Minister replied by repeating this was an ongoing procedure, will await its conclusion and would then take it from there.
You never enquired what his plans were, Dr Muscat was asked again.
“I am saying this is a matter of an inquiry not a matter of me asking out of curiosity,” he answered.
That reply raises two main points. First, Dr Muscat is acknowledging that the issue involving his top aide is the subject of a magisterial inquiry. Like him, this country awaits its outcome and then see whether Dr Muscat will stand by what he said two years ago. “If it is established that enough evidence exists for criminal charges to be pressed, Mr Schembri will have to resign,” he had told a press conference in Birkirkara.
In upholding a request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to preserve evidence resulting from the Panama Papers, Magistrate Doreen Clarke noted that a string of facts brought to her attention could indicate that a crime took place. It is, of course, still too early to conclude that this would lead to charges being pressed and, in any case, that is entirely up to the magistrate compiling the evidence to decide.
The second point is just as worrying. The Prime Minister seems to think that if he asks his right-hand man to put the record straight on 17 Black he would only be doing so to quench his curiosity. Does Dr Muscat not realise that ensuring all those around him are beyond reproach is his duty? And do not those around him deem it their duty to keep him in the picture to save him from embarrassment or worse?
Usually, and for this country’s sake one genuinely hopes this is not the case here, one omits from asking uncomfortable questions either because one cannot face the other party or because one fears the consequences of what the reply might be. Is this why Dr Muscat is resolved not to give in to “curiosity”.
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