Malta has been gripped by the publication of thousands of WhatsApp messages shared between Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar and businessman Yorgen Fenech.
They detail an intense relationship between the pair at a time when Fenech was facing increased scrutiny for being the owner of secret company 17 Black.
While the publication of the private chats has been criticised for breaching the MP's privacy and potentially breaching a court order, they also reveal some important details about potential abuse of power in political life.
Here are some of the key revelations:
1. Cutajar offered to help Fenech with his press
Cutajar and Fenech were clearly very close and shared an intimate history. But the two were also willing to give each other a hand with work-related matters.
Cutajar asked Fenech to “help her” with a constituency survey, confirming what Times of Malta had reported in February 2021. Fenech told her that he would gladly help out. The Labour MP also offered Fenech her help and advice.
On June 8, 2019, Fenech told Cutajar he was livid. The previous evening, then-PN MP David Thake had gone on Xarabank and publicly accused Fenech of offering the PN €50,000 to ensure David Casa was not reelected as an MEP. Thake was a “liar” and he would be issuing a “strong denial”, Fenech told Cutajar. “Do you want me to help you write it?” she texted back. “I’ll send you a draft,” he replied.
2. Cutajar was very vocal about her support for Fenech
Cutajar and Fenech did not have an ordinary friendship – the two spoke about their shared history and regularly complimented each other.
On one occasion, Fenech described the two as “soul mates”. But it was generally Cutajar who made unsolicited pledges of loyalty.
“You are the number 1 and my number 1,” Cutajar told Fenech on June 26. Two weeks later, she told him “If you tell me to run into fire, I will do it Yors” (Jien jekk tghidli nidhol fin nar nidhol yors).
On August 27, after Fenech gave her €9,000 in cash, Cutajar promised him that “I will always be here for you”.
And in late September, as the two reconnected after a few weeks of silence, she told Fenech: “I wish you all the good in the world”.
In June 2019, Cutajar had stood up in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly to criticise rule of law criticism that included a reference to 17 Black, a Dubai-registered company owned by Fenech. She did not declare any conflict of interest.
3. Cutajar suggests a relationship between Fenech and former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Fenech’s struggle with cocaine addiction has been well documented, and he appears to be at a treatment centre during a July 11 exchange. When he tells Cutajar that it is going well, she responds: “Speak to the PM, he’ll be happy to hear it.”
She adds, “And Keith, too” - a possible reference to former chief of staff to the prime minister, Keith Schembri.
4. Cutajar was fed up with being a backbencher
Cutajar was parliament’s youngest MP at the time and had only been elected to parliament for the first time in 2017.
But barely two years into her political career, she was already frustrated by her lack of career progression and felt she deserved a spot in Joseph Muscat’s cabinet.
She vented to Fenech on June 26.
“Turns out there was no reshuffle…. I’m not going to pay attention anymore,” she texted him. “I was going to prepare another Bill. [But now] I don’t want to do anything. I’m very disappointed.”
On July 11, she told Fenech that she didn’t think a reshuffle was on the cards. “No, it will come,” Fenech reassured her.
By August 28, Cutajar appeared to have weathered her initial disappointment and she began batting around ideas for a new topic to broach in parliament. Euthanasia was off the table “because of the president,” she told Fenech, who said that he believed Muscat was also not keen on the idea.
But the idea of a political promotion continued to weigh on Cutajar’s mind. In late September, she texted Fenech.
“Do you think I should speak to the PM… tell him that ‘I never said anything, but if there’s no place in cabinet for me, then please let me know so I can focus on a university course,’” she asked.
We don’t know what Fenech made of that idea, or whether Cutajar ever followed through with it: that question is the very last message leaked in the transcript between the two.
Cutajar would eventually get her wish. In January 2020, Robert Abela made her a junior minister in his first cabinet. The promotion would not last, however: just over one year later, she was demoted for having failed to declare her role in helping Fenech acquire a palazzo in Mdina.
5. Cutajar and the Bulgari bag
Just 10 days before the Labour MP sought to discredit a rule of law report about Malta at the Council of Europe, she received an expensive gift from an anonymous admirer.
“Somebody bought me a Bvulgari [sic] and gave it to me as a gift through it-Tikka,” she told Fenech on June 18. “Tikka won’t tell me who it was because he asked to remain anonymous.”
Fenech replied 50 minutes later. “I think it’s for the Mdina house,” he told the MP. Cutajar had helped Fenech secure a multi-million euro property in Mdina.
“Lol so it was you who bought it for me,” Cutajar says of the Bulgari bag. Fenech does not reply.
6. Cutajar believed the Dragonara deal was a scandal
In July 2019, Economy Minister Chris Cardona granted the Dragonara Casino a 64-year extension of their St Julian’s land, without any call for tenders. The deal offered the casino extremely favourable conditions.
“Cardona messed up”, Cutajar told Fenech on July 11. “This is a disgrace, he’s going to save them around €13 million in rent fees,” she went on to note.
Cutajar told Fenech “everyone was calling us out because of him [Cardona]” at a Council of Europe meeting the previous week. In reality, the meeting focused on rule of law issues – including Fenech’s ownership of 17 Black.
The chats suggest Cutajar went straight to the top to complain about the deal or Cardona’s role in it.
“This is what I sent the PM,” she tells Fenech as she sends him an image. The image is not part of the transcript made available.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t just make a show of him [Cardona],” she wondered.
Cutajar settled on an odd way of showing her disapproval: by declining to attend a birthday party Cardona was organising for his children.
“He invited me but I’m not going,” she told Fenech. “I don’t care. I’m no joke.”
7. They believed Muscat was distracted by his EU aspirations
As Cutajar wondered why Muscat did not clamp down on Cardona, Fenech told her that the prime minister was distracted.
“He was obsessed with the bloody EU,” Fenech replies. “I’ve been telling my friend for ages that it’s impossible, that he’s being played…. But he was naïve.”
Muscat was gunning for a top European Union post and harboured ambitions of replacing Donald Tusk as President of the EU Council. Those dreams had been shattered just one week before Cutajar and Fenech’s conversation.
8. Cutajar received a bag with “40” inside it.
The two exchanged several messages about an ongoing property deal that Cutajar and her friend Charles Farrugia It-Tikka were brokering for Fenech. Cutajar suspected Tikka was going to leave her short.
The conversations make it clear that Cutajar received €9,000 in cash from Fenech when settling brokerage fees for the deal – something the MP has never openly acknowledged.
On August 28, Fenech and Cutajar met shortly after lunchtime. Fenech had just been to a nearby bank. Two hours later, he texted her to warn her that “there’s 40 in there. Just in case that pig tries to take them all”.
Cutajar was surprised. “There’s an extra 9,” Fenech explained. “I was too shy to tell you.”
“You didn’t tell me because I would have gotten angry. Cos you know me,” Cutajar replied.
“9k is too much”, she tells him. He could have bought her a birthday present instead.
“I accepted the 1% (brokerage fee) because I knew they’d be going to you,” he tells her.
The payment would eventually cost Cutajar her job as a junior minister. She remains a backbencher to this day.
9. Fenech believed Konrad Mizzi had been ‘abandoned’
Cutajar urged Fenech to speak to Konrad Mizzi, to ensure he did not “make Darren his god”.
The reference is to businessman Darren Casha, who is known to be close to Mizzi.
Cutajar said Casha “is not respected by many people” and that Mizzi deserves better than to “run around everywhere with him”. Mizzi and Casha were seen coming out of a toilet together at it-Tikka’s house, Cutajar tells Fenech. “He deserves better, especially if he aspires to be PM.”
“I’m with Konrad because he’s your friend,” she adds.
Fenech appears to harbour some guilt about Mizzi’s fall from grace. “We abandoned Konrad too much,” he says. “I say mea culpa. Because we abandoned him.”
10. Who’s going to be Commissioner?
In June 2019, the political rumour mill was focused on who was to replace Karmenu Vella as Malta’s nominee to the European Commission. Cutajar, who was gunning for a cabinet post, wanted to know who was in line to be nominated.
On June 17, Cutajar asked Fenech to do some digging for her. “Can you check for me,” she asked him. “Are they announcing the name of the commissioner this week?” “I don’t think it will be today but I’ll confirm 100 per cent later,” he answered.
“That’s what they’re saying in parliament, everyone is gossiping,” she replied. “Find out for me please darling”.
“I’ll tell you for sure later today,” he assures her.
“I want to start with the other one, but the fact that I don’t know is holding me back,” she said.
Some weeks later, Cutajar raises the topic again. She’s worried that Edward Zammit Lewis will get the cabinet spot she wanted.
“If Helena [Dalli] becomes commissioner, they’ll place EZL [instead],” she wrote on July 11. “And I‘ll end up with nothing.” “He will appoint you for sure,” he assures her, referring to former prime minister Joseph Muscat. “And EZL too.” Cutajar’s hunch proved to be correct. On July 24, the government announced that it was nominating Helena Dalli to the EU Commission, with Zammit Lewis returned to cabinet to replace her.
11. Cutajar vents: ‘I’ll take another salary… everyone pigs out’
As Cutajar saw her hopes of being promoted to cabinet fade, she started to consider her options. “Now I’ve stopped giving a damn,” she told Fenech. “I’ll become a consultant with Pierre of ITS, and pocket another wage.”
She added: “I don’t care, everybody pigs out.”