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More than just lies - Owen Bonnici

The conclusion of the monumental Egrant inquiry has started to close a dark chapter in Maltese politics. At the same time, it has also alerted us to the extent to which the political scenario of this country has become vulnerable to the unholy arts of highly dangerous and irresponsible people who do not stop at “mere” fake news, but go so far as to purposely fabricate documents with a direct criminal intention of framing an innocent family.

Not that lies are new to politics.

Anyone familiar with Maltese political history will recall the Terinu case, where a person alleged that, as a waiter, he had served Lord Strickland in a Masonic lodge, thereby causing a political uproar.

Former British Cabinet minister William Waldgrave published his memoirs in 2015, which include an anecdote allegedly quoting Winston Churchill replying to a question as to whether whatever he said was the truth with the rather patronising: “Young man, I have told many lies for my country and I will tell many more.”

The subject of the Egrant inquiry is however made of different stuff. It is not about someone lying for his country or about an ordinary excess of the political debate. It is a full-blown and coordinated frame-up.

Ordinary lies normally lead to actions for defamation, but the seriousness of this lie required more.

The country simply could not live in the shadow of allegations of such gravity about its Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister took up the challenge. He did not just file an action for libel to simply register his non-acceptance of the allegation. The Prime Minister demanded to be fully investigated by an independent judicial inquiry with full access to resources both in Malta and abroad.

At the same time, he advised the President to dissolve Parliament and go to the polls a year ahead of the due date in order to avert a situation of economic uncertainty, which the allegation spun to no end by the then leader of the Opposition, Simon Busuttil, was giving rise to. 

That investigation has now exonerated the Prime Minister and his wife totally and in the most unequivocal and unambiguous manner. The energy the judiciary put into this elaborate inquiry is nothing but phenomenal, and no stone was left unturned.

Those who have put our country in turmoil and placed our jobs at risk must shoulder their responsibilities

The conclusions are there for everyone to see, but what Dr Muscat and his family, the country and its institutions have gone through because of the professional falsification of documents and the malicious spreading of falsehoods cannot be taken back.

The story was fully backed by sections of the media with other conjectures, such as the myth that important incriminating documents were allegedly taken out of the Pilatus Bank offices and frisked to Baku, Azerbaijan. These conjectures, too, have been unequivocally disproved.

There has been considerable collateral damage as a result of these falsehoods, both in Malta and outside. Foreign politicians have acted as though the false documents were perfectly genuine, as though all that was alleged was the Gospel truth. 

Some local and foreign media rushed to label Malta a ‘Mafia State’, and persons occupying important offices in the country’s institutions were systematically denigrated and treated to repeated contempt and ridicule.

They now got their answer. The questions are: do they really care about the ‘rule of law’ which they are so quick to trumpet? Can they ever be believed?

Whatever the answers, the country must move on. However, the matter must not stop here.

An investigative and judicial process stemming from the clear conclusions of the inquiry must immediately take its course.

Those who have put our country in turmoil and placed our jobs at risk must shoulder their responsibilities according to the rule of law.

Only then will we be able to say justice has been done and seen to be done in this ugly case of framing an innocent family.

In the meantime, until that reckoning happens – I hope it will be sooner rather than later – Simon Busuttil, who is the major culprit in this whole saga, must immediately pay a political price and resign from politics altogether. 

Now that justice has started being done with the Prime Minister and his family, we look forward to doing more work in order to achieve our aim of making our country the best place it could ever be. 

In the meantime, our institutions have a duty to show to the Maltese people and the rest of the world that in our country, the rule of law reigns supreme and whoever breaks it must shoulder their legal responsibilities.

Owen Bonnici is Minister for Justice.

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