Breaking long-standing promise to myself, like many I watched the latest episode of Xarabank: hence this blog, because what's the use of putting yourself through something like watching Xarabank if you can't use it for some fun?
Thankfully, the producers (quite rightly) concluded that a baying audience wouldn't do anything to improve the fare on offer, so we were spared the Jerry Springer awfulness, even because presenting the show was limited to putting questions which were largely ignored while the participants set about each other.
Obviously, breathless admirers of Premier Joe will remain breathless at his masterly (yeah, right) performance and no doubt have been saying so all over social media. Good for them. Likewise, people who remain, for reasons known only to them, sceptical of Simon Busuttil will presumably persist in their position that they know best, though what they actually know remains obscure at best.
Compared to his alternative, Busuttil is head and shoulders taller, on his own merits, he towers, but that's just my opinion.
The context of the debate was the allegations made on Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog that Egrant Inc is held in trust by a Panamanian (hence dodgy unless proved otherwise) outfit in the name of Mrs Michelle Muscat. This allegation was and remains denied by Premier Joe, on the basis of 'evidence' that I'll take a look at soon.
Let's put one thing to bed first though: when Busuttil (in my honest opinion, the only small error he made, incidentally) shook hands with Premier Joe on 'keeping families out of it' (sounds like a line out of Montalbano) he was not - and could not - include me and people like me in the 'deal'.
If mentioning Premier Joe - or anyone else's - family in the context of a political story is necessary, then mentioned they will be, schoolyard handshakes or not.
After all, Premier Joe and his consort have no qualms about parading their kids all over the place when their handlers think a warm and fuzzy image would fit the bill, or taking them out of school to go on jollies, so they can take the consequences and hang their opportunistic hypocrisy.
And anyone who thinks that what is expediently (and deceitfully) described by Premier Joe's cohorts as the "PN side" of the political discourse is guilty of gratuitous attacks on his family hasn't taken even a glance at the spewings of his pet, publicly-funded, blogger, the one who operates right out of an office within spitting and hissing distance of Premier Muscat's own.
On the basis of his performance yesterday he should have continued avoiding Busuttil
But enough of this, let's get back to Michelle Muscat, who whether her hubby likes it or not is directly involved in the story he tried to kill by finally daring to appear on the same stage as Simon Busuttil. Incidentally, I see why he refused to appear on stage for three years and more. On the basis of his performance yesterday he should have continued avoiding Busuttil.
I have no real idea how long the programme actually lasted, because after the first one, I went into a coma during the interminable ad breaks (ads, from what I saw, that mostly reflect the respect the producers have for their audience). From the time-counter of both speakers, it seems the meat was about an hour long.
In his 30 minutes or so, Premier Muscat kept trying to kill the story that his missus was the beneficial owner of Egrant Inc, which was the crux of the show from his point of view.
He used two - stretch that to four - pieces of 'crucial' evidence to rubbish the allegation. They bear analysis, and on analysis, they seem to fall short, Premier Joe's bluster notwithstanding.
Exhibit One, your Honour: the address on the transcript purporting to prove the allegation is wrong, a Panamanian company can't have a Maltese address. With all due respect, buzz, wrong, the Panama Papers already show the company with the same address, which is that of the Corporate Service Providers already in the story up to their necks.
Exhibit Two: the shares had been sold to Brian Tonna, or some corporate variant thereof, months and months and months before. Again, buzz: shares in this sort of outfit move around with consummate fluidity, that's the whole point of them, and anyway, the document in play wasn't a share-transfer, it was simply a declaration of fact: the shares were being held, by whoever held them, on trust for someone else, in this instance allegedly, Mrs Michelle Muscat, wife of Premier Joe.
Exhibit Three: the Panama Papers make no mention the dear lady, so how come her name has only surfaced now? Buzz: remember the "Skype email"?
Exhibit Four: monetary transactions are recorded in the international banking system and can't be erased. Buzz: yes, fine, but who's to say that the allegation that "Mr Pilatus" and his Girl Friday were spiriting documents out of the bank is an allegation that financial transactions were being obscured?
The transcript doesn't refer to such transactions, for instance, and anyway, anyone with a working knowledge of banking machinations knows that you can bounce money around so fast that your head will spin like a top, especially if the originator is in some jurisdiction - taking as a random example Azerbaijan - that is accustomed to accommodating obfuscation.
All of the above, in itself, doesn't prove that Mrs Muscat is the proud owner of Egrant Inc, that's a judgement you will have to form for yourself, based on all the evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, that has been placed in the court of public opinion. It certainly doesn't prove either - by a long, long chalk - that she is not the owner, for all her husband's smug conviction that it does: if that was his best shot, then he needs to reload and try again.
Is it too late for Premier Muscat to remove the slur on the 'family' escutcheon, however?
He should have acted a year ago, and didn't, and we all wondered why at the time.
He should have acted in the meantime, he had months and months to do so, and still didn't, making us wonder even more.
He should certainly have acted within minutes of the allegation surfacing and didn't. See my previous blog for a brief rumination on this aspect, and now give some thought to the Commissioner of Police's assertion that he doesn't take instructions from anyone, only to get his men to spring into action because Premier Joe instructed him to, some twelve hours later.
I wonder if, just to bring the rest of the Cabinet into this, Evarist Bartolo's attacks on the MFSA Boss have anything to do with this sorry spectacle. And what about his colleagues, which of them are slavishly rallying behind Premier Joe and which are feeling the heat?
Time to stand up and be counted, folks, and this applies to all of us.
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