While justice may have been served with the Prime Minister and his wife over Egrant, truth has only been partially told with the release of the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry that found no evidence they owned the Panama company. From what we know so far of the inquiry – which appears to have been conducted meticulously by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja – no light has been shed on the company’s real intended beneficiary.
The fact that Joseph and Michelle Muscat are off the hook has not lifted the suspicion that the ultimate beneficial owner may have been an important political player. This suspicion is fuelled by facts, not allegations: Egrant was set up by Nexia BT at the same time as two other Panama companies belonging to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and his then energy minister; and the UBO was sensitive enough to be transmitted by voice not email.
So, if not the Muscats then who? The Egrant question has not, by any means, been laid to rest. In the public interest, it is imperative that the truth emerges.
Besides, it is the height of hypocrisy for Muscat to shed tears of relief for being cleared of what he obviously views as a terrible accusation, when he himself took little or no action against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri for the same thing. He called the Egrant claim “the biggest political lie”. In his continued denial of their culpability, it is he who is still living a lie.
Meanwhile, PN leader Adrian Delia is right to insist on the inquiry’s full publication in the interests of transparency. In a somewhat bizarre development, however, he has stripped former PN leader Simon Busuttil of his responsibility as spokesman on good governance, taking it over himself, and has asked him to “suspend himself” from the party’s parliamentary group.
Delia reasons that Busuttil should assume political responsibility for making Egrant a central pillar of the PN’s electoral strategy. His suspension request, rejected by Busuttil, has prompted uproar among a faction of PN voters and open rebellion from many in the parliamentary group.
In retrospect it could be said that Busuttil and those around him did commit an error of judgement over Egrant, at least in the initial stages of the campaigning. But Busuttil was undoubtedly in good faith. No responsible Leader of the Opposition could possibly have ignored the allegation – made by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia who had correctly reported the other Panama company ownerships. This is especially so when one considers the context: Muscat’s adamant refusal to dismiss Schembri and Mizzi and police unwillingness to act on leaked money-laundering reports, prompting many to suspect some sort of link between Muscat and Egrant.
A number of magisterial inquiries into what was alleged in those FIAU reports are now underway but only thanks to Busuttil’s initiative. By trying to remove his party’s staunchest anti-corruption fighter from the scene, Delia has shown his true colours: good governance is not, despite his lip service to it, one of his priorities. And by refusing to go, Busuttil, who correctly stepped down following the election defeat, is saying he will not be cowed into fully relinquishing his role.
Did Delia not consider that Busuttil personifies the party’s crusade for good governance and still enjoys a lot of respect among MPs and a section of the party faithful?Delia’s move is neither in the country’s interest and nor in the party’s. His rushed decision demonstrates judgement far poorer than he is accusing Busuttil of. Rather than stand behind the former leader in a show of unity after the Egrant setback, he has driven a wedge into the party. The fissure it has created will not easily be repaired.
Delia might have opted to give Busuttil a different portfolio had he wanted to send the signal that the party was acknowledging its mistake. Instead he has painted himself into a corner. Mediation efforts, spearheaded by former big guns within the party, are now taking place aimed at dragging the PN out of the mess he has created for it. Whatever compromise may be reached, it is difficult to see what might be achieved other than to further dent Delia’s credibility.
This is a new low point for the PN, whose recovery is a matter of grave national importance so that it can properly perform its duty as the Opposition: to offer voters an alternative government even as it campaigns fiercely for better governance. It can, and must, be in a position to do both.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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