Does Muscat expect us to look the other way?

Prime Minister Robert Abela has the arduous task of walking a tightrope, keeping this Labour core in place and ensure the judicial process takes its course

Former Prime MinisterJoseph Muscat
Former Prime MinisterJoseph Muscat

In the last two years, I have purposely avoided reading anything to do with, or watching Joseph Muscat, a man I once had many high hopes for. I have never quite got over the great shock of November 2019, and I have no regrets in having repudiated him in public.

I am too angry to listen to what he has to say now. Though I am conscious of his mindset, believing that he is owed eternal loyalty even when he erred, is unacceptable.

Like so many others, I believed he would be more than a breath of fresh air to Maltese politics. In 1987 I had snubbed Labour for its violence, and in 2003 for its pig-headedness on Europe. But I always identified myself with social democracy and liberal politics. I was a vocal and ardent defender of Muscat’s new promise and what he stood for.

Often, I was alone among my peers. I was willing to take the brunt of the tsunami of abuse that befell anyone who dared stand up for him. I was ostracised and called names.

A case in point is the impression that only one journalist in Malta had suffered defamation cases, garnishees or SLAPPs. Our media house would break all record in the history of litigation and defamation with over 85 defamation cases, a quarter of a million euros in fines, garnishee orders from the tuna industry and threats of legal action at the Old Bailey and in New York.

I belonged to that group of people that had grown to shun the establishment of the Nationalist Party and for what it stood for, and for its immense sense of self-entitlement which, in the PN, is still prevalent to this day.

I had serious problems in grasping the conservatism and self-conceit of so many Nationalist diehards. Yet none of all this could ever justify the premeditated and structured corruption that happened in the Muscat administration, and the organised murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. These are actions are simply unforgivable.

As I have said repeatedly, I was a strong critic of Daphne and I have no regrets in having stood up to her abrasive style of journalism and anti-Labour agenda. It was something I could live with and had got used to.

Yet all this did not diminish her readiness to stand up to be counted, and her decision to confront her adversaries with damning facts about their actions.

The involvement and connivance of an organised group, a small political circle inside Castille, in her murder, because she had touched a raw nerve and uncovered corruption at the core of these highest echelons of government, can never be justified. This was a cold-blooded murder in which politics teamed up with organised crime.

So when two days ago Muscat set up a Facebook stream in home’s back yard where he described the police raid at his home, I reluctantly had to watch.

He said he would not be intimidated, and he referred to the fact that he had called on Magistrate Gabriella Vella way back in November 2021 that he was willing to appear in front of her and present the facts of his Accutor AG consultancy payment – €60,000 – and this from a company previously linked to Steward Healthcare.

Days later, Repubblika filed a police report, and then this week, the raid on Muscat’s house with Maltese and foreign forensic investigators at his house in Bumarrad. Stupidly, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, derided by both Labourites and Nationalists alike, bragged about the whole incident by way of insinuation a few days earlier on Facebook. Surely enough, it must have been an unhappy incident that irked Magistrate Vella, who has to worry about her honour and the integrity of her investigation.

Then, after Muscat’s Facebook video, Matthew Caruana Galizia alleged that the contract with the Swiss firm Accutor was in fact €540,000 in total for a period of 36 months.

Talking to MaltaToday soon after, Muscat argued: “The final agreement was not for a 36-month period and was stopped during the pandemic… there is no link to the hospitals deal. I have provided the authorities with details of work I carried out.”

When pressed to say whether the contract was worth €540,000, Muscat insisted he had “nothing to add” and that his answers were clear enough.

Now Muscat, some will argue, has a right to seek out professional work. And I would agree that I am not against such an entrepreneurial spirit.

But this is fishy. Why work with a company connected to Steward, whose CEO today Armin Ernst was also involved with predecessor Vitals, the company which robbed this country millions in euros; and enabled a suspect deal orchestrated by three men – Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi without the Cabinet knowing?

Revolving doors may not be new in politics; it might be even tolerated. But in this case? Everyone, including top officials at Labour, query how the Great Train Robbery at Vitals took off without anyone batting an eyelid. It was, I guess, because everyone believed in Muscat’s good intentions.

And then again: how could Joseph Muscat have allowed all this to happen? Everyone out there believes that the Vitals deal left many people involved in this deal rich – and not deservedly so, of course. And when Steward replaced Vitals, it retained the same CEO, administrative structure, and even managed to obtain a secret €100 million get-out-of-jail clause, thanks to Konrad Mizzi and Muscat.

The truth is Malta did not need any Vitals or Steward to run those hospitals; Steward knows this, and Malta is better off without them.

And many cannot understand how Muscat would not believe that his decision to accept a consultancy to a company linked to Steward, would not raise eyebrows; especially at a time when Steward remained engulfed in a battle with the Maltese government, to suck more cash from the Maltese taxpayer.

The original payment of €60,000 to Muscat in March 2020 was obviously flagged by the Swiss bank which made the transfer; Muscat, being a PEP, raised the administrative due diligence alarm system, and not only did the inevitable happen... but it appears the whole payment programme stopped.

Muscat is now at the mercy of Magistrate Vella, who has to do her job. And the conclusions of the Vitals investigation could go anywhere.

To be entirely objective about this whole affair, it can get very ugly for Muscat.

One thing is for sure: the whole Labour hardcore is on fire and rekindled. And yet, they should not be. Prime Minister Robert Abela has the arduous task of walking a tightrope, keeping this Labour core in place and ensure the judicial process takes its course.

Many of those who voted for Labour for diverse reasons do not want to punish their party in an election. But neither do they want to look the other way and accept transgressions that can never be justified.

Others have disavowed the party, but find the PN simply unappealing.

And I have said this before and will say it again: the Prime Minister who still rides high in the polls needs serenity and legitimacy, and that can only be achieved by calling an election and asking the people to choose a government with a new mandate and new faces.

What the future holds thereafter, is a matter for democracy and justice to resolve.