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Certainties versus conclusions - Michela Spiteri

We are living at a time when flippant allegations are taken as messianic certainties. If someone is brazen enough to claim something, then lo and behold, it must be true, even in the absence of proof… The accuser counts on gullibility and superficial judgement. Love of gossip, partisan prejudice and schadenfreude complete the picture. We are dealing with people’s lives; people with families and children. If someone is guilty, let justice be done. But let’s not burn people at the stake.

 This comes from an article I wrote in March 2016. No points for guessing the identity of the accuser. And while I knew then that our libel laws weren’t hard-hitting enough, I wasn’t to know that the Prime Minister, his wife and children would be wading to their necks in slung mud a year later.  

When the Egrant allegations surfaced, my immediate reaction was to see it as Daphne Caruana Galizia’s final and desperate attempt to secure a PN victory.  With the odds stacked heavily in favour of Labour, the Nationalists (with or without Simon Busuttil at the helm) didn’t have a fighting chance. Panama, which had involved a top-level minister and the Prime Minister’s equally high-ranking Chief of Staff, was not making significant inroads – possibly because Caruana Galizia, in her haste to hijack ‘Panama’ and pass it off as her own work, had let the cat out of the bag prematurely. If the animal had only emerged later, Panama might have panned out decisively.  The problem was that, by January 2017, the story had lost its lustre and Labour was careering ahead.   

Riding high on the Panama revelations (which many erroneously attribute to Caruana Galizia), ‘Brothelgate’ came next. And lo, Economy Minister Chris Cardona was in the frame, although his detractor surely never imagined she’d be facing multiple libel suits and a €46,000 garnishee order. The PN denounced that response as a threat to democracy and duly set about a crowd-funding campaign, but really they only confirmed what we knew: Caruana Galizia was their not-so-secret weapon, they were heavily in her debt, and she (ironically) was the cause of their electoral deficit.   

If Brothelgate and Panama didn’t go as planned, Caruana Galizia was not about to take chances with Egrant. The blow would have to be fatal, a coup de grace sufficient to ruin the Prime Minister professionally and personally. Linking the third Panamanian company to the Prime Minister’s wife bang in the middle of the EU Presidency was a move calculated to disgrace the Prime Minister and his wife whilst inflicting maximum damage and distress on their family.  

I must have written about Egrant half a dozen times, but my theory remained unchanged: it was a sinister and co-ordinated frame-up: Caruana Galizia’s (and PN’s) last chance to put Labour out of the running.  

In Malta, nothing surprises

In Malta, nothing surprises. Caruana Galizia’s refusal/inability to publish her ‘proof’ was met with the usual sheep-like approbation: the Muscats were guilty enough, and anyway the claims of a celebrity journalist deserved to be taken at face-value. Hadn’t she been right about Panama? Ergo she was right about Egrant. Etcetera.

But what I’m asking – for the first time – is this. Did Caruana Galizia herself create Egrant, or did she deliver it to the nation at someone else’s behest? I’d always imagined it was her ‘baby’ and that PN involvement was ‘post-natal’. 

But perhaps I’m underestimating (or overestimating?)? Were PN members simply following Caruana Galizia’s lead, for want of a leader or a strategy, or were they using her as their mouthpiece, too afraid to pass the allegations off as their own? What is certain is that the Nationalist Party went on to own them in word and deed. Major newsrooms followed. Perhaps they knew, with Caruana Galizia on side, life would be easier: the proverbial ‘devil you know’?

Today, thanks to the inquiry, we know that Caruana Galizia’s refusal to go public with information she had ‘seen’ was because she had never been in physical possession of it. QED: it didn’t exist. We also know that Caruana Galizia’s ‘story’ was simply not sourced in the proper way, her testimony being diametrically opposed to that of Maria Efimova. 

This begs an important question: who sought out whom? Perhaps Caruana Galizia colluded with, or even created, her own plausible ‘source’, never imagining Efimova would turn up in court and blow her cover.

And perhaps she never bargained on a magisterial inquiry either. Her family’s recent assertion that she knew the magistrate would never find proof to link Egrant with the Muscats is itself telling. You can only make a guarantee like that when you know… 

All magistrates bring something different to the table or bench. Aaron Bugeja brings precision, profundity and gravitas. His conclusions are never leapt at, being reached only after careful consideration (in this case after hearing the testimonies of no less than 477 witnesses).

I read all 50 pages of the summary report, and one conclusion in particular struck me: the possibility that Caruana Galizia may have “wanted to believe what she claims Efimova told her”. 

I wouldn’t want to extrapolate beyond what His Honour intended, but it does seem possible that Efimova didn’t tell Caruana Galizia anything of the sort. Or to put it another way: when you desperately want to believe something, when your loathing of something or someone is so profound that it interferes with your objective thinking, anything is possible. 

Today that loathing is the legacy. There’s a Malta out there which loathes the Muscats and everything they stand for; a Malta which feigned shame at being Maltese but would have liked nothing better than for the Muscats to be guilty; a Malta which clamours for the rule of law yet refuses to accept a magistrate’s conclusions; which still insists that the Muscats are guilty because that’s what its messiah and cult hero once said.

michelaspiteri@gmail.com

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