The arrest of Yorgen Fenech earlier this week was an important event. He has not been charged at the time of writing this article, but ongoing investigations may lead to more information in the unresolved murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Fenech is, among other things, somebody who led a consortium that won a huge tender from the government to build a power station. The three main persons he dealt with are the then energy minister Konrad Mizzi, the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
Slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia uncovered a shocking web of financial structures linking these persons. Central to it all, a Dubai company called 17 Black which Reuters revealed is the property of Fenech.
The arrest happened early in the morning on a yacht that had just left the marina and which was intercepted by military vessels. All this made it seem like a scene out of an action movie but in a film there is always a clear identification between the good guys and the bad guys.
In Malta under this government we don’t have that clarity: its highest officials have an obligation to uncover the truth but, instead, they prevent it from emerging.
This could not have been more obvious last week when Schembri stepped away – quite literally – from the opportunity to set the record straight. He had been accused of taking bribes from Fenech’s 17 Black by Simon Busuttil.
So now we can tell Schembri and Mizzi, to their face, that they had arranged to accept bribes from Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black. They won’t do anything about it
After suing him in order to clear his name, Schembri just stood in court sullenly refusing to answer any questions. When Magistrate Victor Axiaq insisted he provides replies, he threw in the towel stating that he was advised his testimony could incriminate him and prejudice his position as a subject of an ongoing criminal inquiry.
Can you imagine yourself being clean and innocent and shutting up about it? How does saying you are innocent in one forum make matters worse for you in another one? It doesn’t. It is only if you are not innocent that silence is preferable to self-incrimination.
Mizzi’s story is no different to Schembri’s. He filed libel suits too when he was accused of being corrupt. He thought that having established a company in Panama, Hearnville Inc, was no reason to call him a criminal. But when the big day was approaching, Mizzi cowered and ran off too.
His capitulation was less spectacular than Schembri’s simply because he was not quivering in court when it happened. But he did it for the same reasons. Mizzi wanted to stop his accusers from asking his accountant, Karl Cini, about the e-mails he sent to the Panama law firm setting up Hearnville which, according to Cini, was going to be receiving “around $2m” in its first year. The money, wrote Cini, would be paid “by 17 Black”.
Like Schembri, Mizzi withdrew the libel suits he had instituted to prove he was a clean politician. This is the same person who yelled “Shame on you” at a PN minister who received a wall clock!!
So now we can tell Schembri and Mizzi, to their face, that they had arranged to accept bribes from Fenech’s 17 Black. They won’t do anything about it. Nothing in the courts, at any rate. Announcing the arrest of Fenech, the Prime Minister told us that he has commanded maximum resources to leave no stone unturned and that nobody was safe from his investigations because he would not protect Fenech or anybody else. As he was saying that however, raising his right hand in a pious gesture of independence and impartiality, his left hand was clinging on to Schembri and Mizzi.
They, in turn, have opened their palm to bribes from Fenech. There is a chain of persons here that starts and ends with Fenech. These are undisputed facts which lead me to suspect that Muscat is not on our side, but theirs.
Corruption ruins us, morally and financially. Ever since Labour was outed by Daphne and the Daphne Project team of journalists our country’s reputation has suffered untold harm. European institutions have expressed serious concerns and reservations about the manner in which our government has participated in the battle against bribery and money laundering. Most recently with respect to the state of health of Bank of Valletta which lent half a billion euros to Fenech’s power station company.
While the Council of Europe gave us limited time to repair the situation, the international banking community is reacting to the situation in real time and payments from Malta are now regarded as high risk. Investors who previously considered us safe and stable now balk at being associated with a country that has such dark clouds over its head. Inevitably this is going to have a dramatic effect on our economy and our quality of life.
Malta needs a new, clean government without further delay.
Adrian Delia is the leader of the Opposition.