Let’s take the case of Edward Caruana. In 2015, John Vella reported Evarist Bartolo’s canvasser Caruana for demanding a €30,000 backhander. Even a perfunctory investigation would have revealed to the Police Commissioner that, on his modest salary, Caruana had developed six large apartments, a large three bedroomed penthouse, six garages and an office valued at €2 million in Rabat.
The Police Commissioner charged Vella with slandering an official without investigating Caruana.
The message was clear: anybody daring to expose any wrongdoing by Labour ministers’ canvassers, let alone ministers themselves, will pay a huge price – no contracts will be forthcoming, payments will be withheld and, more importantly, you will be dragged by a servile Police Commissioner to the courts.
It would take three long years for him to be acquitted, and only because of Philip Rizzo’s intervention.
Rizzo, CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, discovered that thousands of euros of public funds had gone missing. He compiled a 200-page dossier detailing the forgeries and corruption by Caruana and went to the Prime Minister.
Joseph Muscat tried to buy Rizzo’s silence by offering him another job. In the meantime, Caruana continued with the development. Caruana was able to transfer two apartments to his sons and sell another block before any transfer of property was frozen by the court. Even after he was charged, he still put up a penthouse for sale for €640,000 in March 2018.
Evarist Bartolo was accused by Rizzo of spending weeks trying to persuade him not to report Caruana. Muscat failed to take any action. And the full force of the police was used to harass and prosecute Vella who dared speak the truth.
Minister Bartolo and Prime Minister Muscat were never called for questioning by the police for their part in the alleged obstruction of justice. The institutions worked to shelter the corrupt and intimidate the whistle-blower.
Now let’s look at Pilatus Bank. This started operations soon after Labour’s ascent to power. Its owner, Iranian born Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, was so close to Prime Minister Muscat and his then chief of staff Keith Schembri that they attended Sadr’s wedding in Venice. Both were reported to be on a “high level of familiarity” with Sadr and that Schembri “took a personal interest in the licensing process”.
Schembri owned a Pilatus Bank account into which Brian Tonna had transferred €100,000, allegedly from kickbacks from the sale of passports. Adrian Hillman also had a bank account at Pilatus. €650,000 had been funnelled to Hillman from Schembri.
Cheng Chen, the Shanghai Electric representatives who negotiated with Konrad Mizzi, had a British Virgin Island company set up for him by Brian Tonna and had an account at Pilatus Bank.
Leyla Aliyeva, with whom Michelle Muscat posed for photographs, and her sister Arzu – the two daughters of the Azerbaijani president – were Pilatus Banks’ largest clients. The Heydarov brothers – the sons of Azerbaijan’s powerful emergency minister, dubbed ‘the minister of everything’ – also owned Pilatus Bank accounts.
Joseph Muscat. Heed the advice you have been given. Go. Now. Before you cause more deaths and suffering to the people of this country
Muscat made several low-key trips to Azerbaijan which did not follow the normal protocol for meetings with foreign leaders. The notorious meeting between Muscat, Mizzi, Schembri and Kurt Farrugia in Azerbaijan without civil servants or the press was as brazen as it was reckless.
Muscat was warned time and time again of the illegal activities at the bank. Daphne Caruana Galizia had exposed the bank’s laundering of funds from corrupt schemes on behalf of offshore companies and individuals, including Schembri. The Panama Papers revealed that the bank facilitated suspicious transactions from Panama.
An FIAU report on the bank as early as 2016 found serious shortcomings, including failing to register politically exposed persons as such.
In March 2018, Sadr was arrested in the US and charged with money laundering and fraud amounting to $115 million. He is facing 125 years’ imprisonment.
The European Banking Authority opened investigations into how Malta dealt with Pilatus. These revealed serious shortcomings in the FIAU.
The national broadcaster chose not to report this to the Maltese public. The European Parliament sent its investigative delegation on money laundering several times to Malta and concluded that there was an atmosphere of fear and a sense that criminals could operate with impunity in the country.
It took huge international pressure, the arrest in the US of Ali Sadr and ECB intervention for the bank’s licence to eventually be revoked. The damage to Malta’s reputation was massive. Muscat’s response in an interview was that this was an issue being used to tarnish Malta’s reputation. Alfred Sant was three times rebuked by the European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourová for claiming that Pilatus was treated unfairly and disproportionately. But Joseph Muscat and his allies continued to defend Pilatus Bank.
The institutions worked to protectthe money launderers and to ruin the country’s reputation.
Finally, let’s look at the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Between January 2016 and October 2017, when Caruana Galizia was murdered, five car bombs exploded killing three people and seriously injuring two others.
Martin Cachia was killed on January 16, 2016. Josef Cassar lost both legs on September 26, 2016. The following month, on October 31, John Camilleri was killed in a car bomb at St Paul’s Bay. Victor Calleja died on January 27, 2017 when a bomb placed in his car was detonated electronically. The following month, on February 20, Romeo Bone lost both his lower limbs in another car bomb. Nobody was brought to justice over all these cases.
When the issue was raised in Parliament, Carmelo Abela accused the Opposition of conducting a fear campaign based on crimes that have “nothing to do with politics”. At least one of those car bombs was the same type as the one that killed Caruana Galizia in October 2017 – both procured from the Italian mafia.
The police force had five separate opportunities to identify the perpetrators of these crimes before Caruana Galizia’s murder and failed in all cases. Had the institutions worked and the culprits been apprehended, lives and limbs would have been saved. It is only in Caruana Galizia’s case that suspects have been apprehended – and the difference was that FBI and Interpol agents were involved.
The failure to solve any of these heinous crimes suggests incompetence, negligence or unwillingness. Whatever the reason, this created a sense of impunity which encouraged the same criminals and others to continue to murder and maim.
The institutions worked to protect the murderers and the masterminds behind those murders – at the expense of lives and limbs.
In a democratic country, the statement that the institutions work should be so self-evident that it never needs to be uttered. In Malta, Muscat and his sycophantic sidekicks, like Andy Ellul and Robert Musumeci, repeat it constantly – to convince others and themselves.
Muscat knows full well that the institutions don’t work. He also knows why they don’t – because he has assiduously and systematically demolished those very institutions. He has done so for one sole purpose – to protect his criminal friends and his own skin.
Joseph Muscat, heed the advice you have been given. Go. Now. Before you cause more deaths and suffering to the people of this country.
Kevin Cassar is Professor of Surgery, University of Malta.
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