Minister Carmelo Abela has the face of someone who, when asked at the age of six what he wanted to be, would have replied: “A minister.” I’m pretty sure he packed his school lunch and books in an attaché case and probably started wearing a tie on weekend outings straight after his preċett.

He’s got the face of goodwill; of someone who’s too quiet to hurt a fly. The idea is further strengthened by the fact that he’s always so put together, with never a hair out of place, never a loosened tie. Surely, he can’t ever break any rule?

He’s the type constituents in Żejtun would describe as “good boy, jaħasra”, a mantra which seems to have helped him get elected to parliament repeatedly for this last quarter of a century.

But, as the Maltese saying goes, beware the “kutu, kutu”. And it is for this reason that I’d like to go for a trip down memory lane.

Let’s go back about 10 years. Round about this time, Abela was an Opposition MP and deputy speaker. But his day job was at HSBC. He was, at the time, a senior officer in the security department at the Qormi HSBC headquarters. He was one of a small group of people who had access to a security equipment called ‘Cotag’, which provided access cards to sensitive areas at the bank.

In June of 2010, while the whole of Malta had flocked to the Isle of MTV concert, a band of robbers infiltrated the HSBC headquarters. They clearly had had some help from inside as they managed to go through the labyrinthine corridors and used security-coded cards which would have led them to the bank’s stash of money.

In the event, the heist was botched, ending up in a violent shoot-out with the police outside the bank. But the case, more than 10 years on, has never been solved. But let’s park this here for a moment.

Fast forward two years and, in 2013, Labour came to power. In December 2014, Abela was appointed… minister! Perhaps because of his, ahem, experience, his portfolio included home affairs and national security.

Now that his lifelong dream had come true, what better way to celebrate than by building a rooftop veranda at his Żejtun house to be able to enjoy sunset, like a proper ministru should?

Nothing wrong in that, you might say, except that, instead of engaging workmen like we all do, he reportedly got ministry civil servants to skive off their ministerial jobs paid from our taxes to install his veranda.

When this came to light a couple of years later, and journalists quizzed him, he replied: “Erm, I don’t know who built my veranda, I don’t remember.”

Really, enough is bloody enough!- Kristina Chetcuti

In the meantime, another election came and went and, with the new government, Abela was awarded an even bigger ministry – that of foreign affairs.

His first task the minute he sat down on his plush minister’s swivel chair? To order immediately back, without any valid reason, a brilliant junior diplomat from his posting in New Delhi, India. Was this diplomat not performing his duties well? No, because Malta’s then high commissioner to India sent a written objection to Abela imploring him to cancel the recall of his only aide who was as dedicated as they come. His plea was ignored. And Andrew Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s son, had to come back.

A couple of years later, when asked about this blatant vindicative act, at the Caruana Galizia murder inquiry, Minister Abela said: “Erm, I don’t know, I don’t remember.”

And now, let’s go back to that bank heist, shall we? It so happens that, recently, one of the alleged Caruana Galizia hitmen – a Degorgio – gave police details of that 2010 attempted bank robbery. The information included the alleged involvement of a Labour politician who allegedly provided a copied access card and mobile phone footage of the bank vaults – in return for €300,000 for the trouble. Abela’s name started being bandied about but,oddly, he did not file a report against Degiorgio for the calumnious accusation.

But it was getting a bit too hot under his neat collar and, so just to remind his constituents that he’s a good boy, jaħasra, Abela spent €7,000 of our tax money on full-page newspaper adverts of himself, wearing a suit and a red tie. Ever the pupillu.

The Standards Tzar declared this a misuse of public funds. Abela’s reply? “Erm, I don’t know that there are guidelines about ministerial adverts.”

In the meantime, Times of Malta unearthed some documentation which showed that, back in 2011, Abela had been called to testify in the compilation of evidence of the bank heist case. On the witness stand, Abela was not asked routine courtesy questions but very, very specific and serious questions about his access to the Cotag machines.

When confronted about this testimony last week, Abela’s reply was: “Erm, I don’t know, I don’t remember.

But it so happened that, because of the fresh claims about the inside man who helped in the heist, the police opened the investigation again and, in fact, on Wednesday, good boy-jaħasra-Minister Abela was interrogated by the police.

So now, to Malta’s corrupt government CV, we’ve added a minister investigated about a bank heist. Really, enough is bloody enough!

If he doesn’t want to go until he clears his name, then the prime minister must kick him out, pronto. He needn’t worry, in a couple of years, Abela will have forgotten he was ever in the cabinet: “Me, a minister? Erm, I don’t know, I don’t remember.”

krischetcuti@gmail.com
twitter: @krischetcuti

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