Scicluna would have donned his didactic hat and explained how Malta is a country where cars are able to spontaneously combust, accidentally trapping unwitting journalists or notorious gang leaders inside.
So is the smuggling of oil extracted from a war-torn neighbour to the South to a crime-riddled neighbour to the North using local boats merely an accident, and not organised crime.
And nephews of notorious Italian crime lords come here for the food; the setting up of loss-making, cash-pumping gaming companies is surely just an unhappy coincidence.
Scicluna would have his driver believe that nameless billionaires buy Maltese passports just as if they were signing up for a Diners Club subscription, simply to be able to use the fast lane at airports. Some may even find themselves on sanction lists in other countries, including the US, but that is an unrelated irrelevance.
This hapless driver was in for a treat. While Scicluna may well be taken for a sleepy academic who hasn’t published any research since Karl Marx first went out of fashion, he is really Malta’s Finance Minister, so he would surely know allabout any organised crime to be discovered in the country.
Instead Scicluna explains that Malta buys fuel from the Azerbaijani regime at higher prices than market rates because of our generosity to the people of Azerbaijan, not because any of the decision makers are in on the deal.
He tells him that the fact that Azerbaijan’s ‘royal’ family banked in Malta was purely coincidental. As was the fact that he was the minister who licensed their banker to set up here.
Scicluna would assume his driver had not heard of Ali Sadr. So many Iranians try to dodge sanctions imposed on the rogue regime of their country after all. But who could have known that Ali Sadr was one of them, if this particular Iranian carried a Nevisian passport, or three, sold to him by the same company that sells Malta’s passports to sundry Russians? Nothing to see here, is Scicluna’s assurance.
And while the Panama Papers proved useful to many a tax collector across the world, crime-free Malta could afford to ignore them. Nothing criminal about a government minister and a senior unelected government official setting up secret Panama accounts before they had time to place their wives’ picture frames on their new desks. Nothing wrong with signing contracts for the secret companies they set up to receive the millions they should not have. Nothing wrong with hiding the origin of those millions. There’s no organised crime here.
Scicluna tells him that the fact that Azerbaijan’s ‘royal’ family banked in Malta was purely coincidental
And then he patiently explains to the taxi driver that Malta could turn out to be just the right investment were he to come by any extra cash. Ten million euro would buy him a nice flat in a high-rise tower bounded by a red-light district on one side and a village of very unhappy home owners in squat two-storey houses living in its shadows. And it may be comforting to know you can find a bus stop nearby.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. None of this is remotely suspicious.
Scicluna expects us all to be satisfied with his facile, face-value assessment, and to take his word over that of a journalist blown to smithereens as she pieced together the puzzling tentacles of this Mafia State. After all she’s dead and he’s alive. So who do you believe?
Indeed this is the question that confronts us. I had a conversation with someone in the UK recently who said they were surrounded by people who did not know who to believe. Brexit good or Brexit bad? The facts may be staring them in the face but surely all those politicians denying the facts couldn’t be lying? Surely not.
In this world, the manifest truth is retired. Consider how trolls were dispatched online this week to counter the jaw-dropping scandal of a government middle manager flown by private jet to and from her holiday to ensure she could be present to vote in support of the Pembroke tower.
The trolls came up with the tu quoque retort that in 2010 Richard Cachia Caruana was flown from Tripoli by private jet. Except he wasn’t. The trolls were quoting an article published by Malta Today in 2010. Unfortunately, the article got its facts wrong. Fake news. But what does it matter if it is not true? If the lie fits the narrative, then it’s perfectly usable as a counter.
Sometimes government ministers indulge in a little fake news themselves, like Owen Bonnici tried to do this week when he said I had backed down and withdrawn my case in court claiming that his actions and orders breach constitutional safeguards for free speech. Does it matter to those who would rather believe him than me?
In this context of claim and counter-claim, it is perfectly possible to make absurd statements in the vein that in Malta there is no organised crime, there is no corruption, and the mafia does not exist.
Of course, even Scicluna needs help to get away with such bare-faced fantasies. And help at times comes from surprising quarters. Just this week a Catania tribunal concluded a 10-year investigation into the owner of Sicily’s newspaper of record, La Sicilia, and other print and TV media in the south of Italy.
The tribunal found that the business interests of the media group were virtually the business interests of Cosa Nostra. And Cosa Nostra did not use La Sicilia, La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, Antenna Sicilia and Telecolor to appear good and kindly. It used them to render itself invisible.
One case highlighted by the Catania judicial investigators was of a police officer killed by the Mafia. The owner of the media group would not carry his obituary.
Sicilian courts have spent the past 70 years beating against the rubber wall of denial that organised crime even exists. In that context, they see the media and politics’ collaboration with the Mafia’s efforts to suppress awareness of its existence as an extension of organised crime itself.
When they sweep away, in the dead of night, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s picture from the place designated to symbolise the lack of justice afforded her and the country thus far, they relegate her assassination to an unfortunate incident. That can only penetrate the collective unconscious if enough people agree the mafia does not exist.
With a good tip, the South American taxi driver might just buy it. But it will not matter to him. He does not have to live here.
Indeed, in the words of Baudelaire by the way of Verbal Kint, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he does not exist”.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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