On June 28, serious allegations surfaced about two members of cabinet. A minister had been in constant contact with Yorgen Fenech. Another cabinet member is believed to have had an intimate relationship with him.
Prime Minister Robert Abela immediately spoke to the two cabinet members. And promptly took no action. Abela concluded that relationships with Fenech were only unacceptable if they continued after Fenech became a murder suspect. Abela set out his ‘demarcation line’ which he defined as the moment Fenech was implicated in the murder – November 19, 2019.
But Fenech was identified as the owner of 17-Black a year earlier – November 9, 2018. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri had planned to receive $2 million from Fenech’s 17-Black.
On November 16, 2018, Owen Bonnici, who was justice minister at the time, confirmed that criminal investigations into 17 Black were under way.
Any member of cabinet maintaining contact with Fenech after that date was fully aware that he was under investigation for serious crimes.
So why did Abela choose November 2019 rather than November 2018 – a full year earlier – as his ‘demarcation line’?
Because he could not afford to lose another two members of his cabinet. And because former prime minister Joseph Muscat had done much worse, inviting Fenech to his private party and accepting his gifts while under investigation. It also let Adrian Delia, Labour’s favourite party leader, off the hook.
Rosianne Cutajar did not deny her alleged relationship. “I do not intend to respond to personal allegations,” she replied.
But Edward Zammit Lewis did a Bill Clinton. He insisted that there was “no relationship” with Fenech – no professional, no non-professional and no commercial relationship. Fenech was only an acquaintance – “konoxxenza”. Zammit Lewis denied everything.
But it took only three short months for Zammit Lewis’s lies to be exposed. Times of Malta revealed that 700 messages were exchanged between Fenech and Zammit Lewis between January and October 2019 – when Fenech was already under investigation. Zammit Lewis had also been out for meals with his “acquaintance” Fenech.
This time the minister could not deny. His only defence was that he had terminated contact before Fenech was implicated in the murder – Abela’s arbitrary demarcation line. In short, he didn’t speak to Fenech again after he was imprisoned. And for Abela all is fine then – nothing happened after his ‘demarcation line’.
Edward Zammit Lewis has lost all credibility with his cabinet colleagues and the nation- Kevin Cassar
Zammit Lewis admitted that if Fenech were to file for a second pardon he would have to seek the advice of the prime minister on recusing himself. In so doing he acknowledged that he did have a relationship with Fenech despite denying it weeks earlier. And that his relationship constituted a clear conflict of interest that disqualified him from participating in any discussions relating to Fenech’s pardon. But Zammit Lewis had participated in the discussions in cabinet on Fenech’s first pardon request in November 2019. He was one of those who made the decision to deny Fenech the pardon.
Zammit Lewis knew well that he had a conflict of interest then as he has admitted now. He had a vested interest in denying Fenech a pardon to ensure that his relationship with the alleged murderer remained buried.
He knew he should never have participated in those discussions or in the decision making.
The only explanation as to why he did is that he concealed his relationship with Fenech from his cabinet colleagues. In so doing he jeopardised that same decision and provided grounds for Fenech to challenge it.
Now new allegations have emerged that Fenech’s wife went to Zammit Lewis’s private residence in February 2020 when Fenech was facing criminal proceedings in Malta and France. Zammit Lewis again denied. But had he not also denied having a relationship with Fenech? Will these recent allegations also prove to be true?
“The minister will continue working on historic reforms with the aim of strengthening the rule of law and good governance,” Zammit Lewis shamelessly declared.
Even Labour’s grassroots are outraged. Desmond Zammit Marmarà, a Labour stalwart, was categorical in his newspaper article. “It is plain wrong for cabinet members to consort with corrupt businessmen. Such relationships should stop immediately” ‒ “Illum qabel għada”.
Yet Zammit Lewis’s sin is not simply consorting with corrupt businessmen. If that were the case it would simply be at best a terrible error of judgement. Zammit Lewis communicated regularly and went for meals with a person under criminal investigation for money laundering involving another cabinet member and the prime minister’s chief of staff.
He lied brazenly to the nation by denying any relationship with Fenech and deceived his cabinet colleagues.
And this is our minister for justice responsible for promoting the rule of law and good governance. Yes, minister for justice – consorting with persons under criminal investigation and lying to his colleagues and the country.
In the face of such deceit and dishonesty, Abela must fire Zammit Lewis. He cannot continue to protect him with his ridiculous ‘demarcation line’. Zammit Lewis has lost all credibility with his cabinet colleagues and the nation.
Abela would do well to heed the genuine Labour grass roots’ advice voiced by Zammit Marmarà: “It is imperative that Abela’s Labour government turn over a new leaf”. “Hemm bzonn li l-gvern Laburista ta’ Abela jibda paġna ġdida.” Sacking Zammit Lewis would be a start. Before the contents of those 700 messages are revealed.
Kevin Cassar is professor of surgery and former PN candidate.
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