I have been silent for some weeks now and some of the people who have glanced at a couple of my previous articles about Malta – about its endangered or even ruined heritage, environment, politics, traffic, integrity and way of life – have asked me why so.
I was almost about to quietly give up and do like the good guy in cowboy movies, namely ride slowly away into the sunset. The themes on which I have written in the past seem to only go from bad to worse. It seems that nothing anybody says or does to bring our country back to be a normal functioning European country, or city state, has any effect on the popular support for the prevailing Republic of Darkness.
I have been abroad, savouring the delights of other countries where I find peace of mind in the knowledge that the institutions still enjoy the full effects of the separation of powers. Where, however the amount of crime, terrorism, fraud or tax evasion, one knows that the police, the courts, the city planners, environmental control and respect for local regulations will still function. Being there one enjoys peace of mind and I am happy that our children have heeded our advice to avoid living in Malta or being dependant upon Malta’s public authorities in any way, form or fashion.
Unfortunately, many of the readers of my previous articles cannot avoid living in Malta, having their businesses or families here and, therefore, being dependent upon the whims and fancies of local authorities.
It is because of these that I have persuaded myself to put pen to paper once more.
This time, as a lawyer, general counsel for large corporations, representative of my country and former senior member of a now disbanded think tank. I cannot avoid writing about the recent confusion and smokescreens being created by, around and because of our legal system.
The tax system is another matter that causes me great concern, but that remains less urgent today, and will be the subject of a future essay.
The Maltese legal system is quite a perfect amalgamation of the Anglo Saxon Common Law based system and the Continental Roman Law/Code Napoleon legal system. It has always been there for the protection of citizens, for the control of criminals and for the assurance of the separation of powers. It has always been the domain of able, trained lawyers. Our judiciary has always been the saving grace of our legal system. Despite all its flaws, that are usually associated with long delays, and despite inadequate funding for court experts and specialist support for our magistrates and judges, they do their best.
We have recently seen a slight deterioration brought about by ministerial and political interference in the award of legal warrants to newly graduated lawyers who should have failed the test connected to the requirement of good conduct and clean sheet in their police records, as well as in the appointment of judges with clear political links and leanings, and even with other blemishes that would normally not have passed the test.
This relaxation of sternness in the selection and nomination of members of the judiciary and the legal or academic distinction in some of the nominees in recent years has begun to pick away and to create chinks in the armour of inviolability of aloofness and independence of the third arm of our democracy.
That the fourth arm of democracy, the free press, has been attacked and treated badly by the executive arm of government for many years and by all parties in power is a fact. It paved the way for attacks on members of the press, inviting anybody with a grievance to attack journalists, culminating in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The lack of access to public contracts, the avoidance of answering questions, the flouting of all decency by ministers who ought to have resigned long ago for information brought into the public domain by local and foreign journalists only happens in Malta and in failed states like Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Russia and Nicaragua, to mention just a few.
Who knows whether the eminent magistrate qualified any of his conclusions with conditions or with suppositions?
Thus, we are now faced with a report of an investigation carried out by one of the better members of our judiciary. A report by a person in whom everybody should have full confidence.
The report of great public interest has not been made available to the press or to the public. It has however been given to the Executive power and to the Attorney General who has only made some parts of what he calls conclusions or snippets available.
Who knows whether the eminent magistrate qualified any of his conclusions with conditions or with suppositions? Who knows whether the selection of handwriting experts was planned? They apparently set up a company in Malta ad hoc to issue their expert advice rather than the advice about a Mossack Fonseca signature and document being issued publicly through their internationally respected company. Did they do this so as not to tarnish their good name?
Does this create a precedent for all Mossack Fonseca documents? These are lodged in bank vaults across the entire world carrying photocopied signatures of a handful of Panamanian secretaries, office cleaners and staff who were made to sign hundreds of thousands of blank company documents churned out like sausages from the world’s most notorious criminal tax avoidance bureau. Are all their documents false and, if so, can all funds held secretly by companies whose directors are office maids, cleaners, secretaries living in Panama – but whose owners are prime ministers, presidents, ministers, chiefs of staff, company directors, princes, film stars, racing drivers, football stars, dictators and their cronies – be suddenly frozen or withheld by the banks holding these funds?
Are all the nominee companies now based upon forged documents? Or is the only forged document emanating from Mossack Fonseca the one that our eminent magistrate picked apart?
I tend to believe that all Mossack Fonseca documents are flawed, but all have been, will be and should be accepted as the normal tender for that type of dirty business which is the offshore money laundering trade, run by criminal firms like Mossack Fonseca and with whom one of our accountant and tax advisory firms in Malta partnered.
We all know that there is clear proof, which has not been denied, that two accounts for two named Maltese PEPs were documented in the leaked minute part of the Mossack Fonseca files. This is the round earth proof if there was any.
The section of e-mails that appeared in the leaked files also contained the extremely worrying e-mail concerning the third company whose beneficial owner was so secret that it could not be divulged by e-mail. Why the Maltese tax advisory firm had such fear of putting this name down on an e-mail defies all logic and raises serious suspicions. Was this the “Innominato” of I Promessi Sposi, the gangster whose power was so great, whose accomplice and right-hand man, Il Griso, was so frightening, that no one dared mention his name?
In spite of doubtful evidence to confirm its existence, it is a fact that a third company called Egrant, Gerant or Argent – call it by whichever anagram you like best – existed and was created through a Skype call. This is also proof of a round world. It is an enigma at best that the Finance Ministry, police, financial services authorities or even the top echelons of executive power did not immediately run to a magistrate and ask for a warrant to seek, from Skype owner Microsoft, a transcript or sound recording of that famous call.
Had they done their duty we would all know for whom the third company was created.
(To be continued)
John Vassallo is a former senior counsel and director for EU Affairs at General Electric, a former vice president, EU Affairs, associate general counsel, Microsoft, and a former Ambassador of Malta to the EU.