Infiltration - Manuel Delia
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Infiltration - Manuel Delia

They’re not long and not complicated. So the facts are worth repeating. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri set up two companies in Panama. They used Nexia BT and Mossack Fonseca for the purpose. Between the latter two we have seen written communication that says that Mizzi and Schembri’s companies targeted a Dubai company called 17 Black as a client that will pay them $150,000 a month. That Dubai company is owned by Yorgen Fenech, himself shareholder and CEO of the Maltese third of the Electrogas consortium which was given by Mizzi and Schembri the power station contract.

Incitatus, Emperor Caligula’s favourite horse. 17 Black will go down in legend as our version of Caligula’s horse, made a Senator by its owner. Photo: Shutterstock.comIncitatus, Emperor Caligula’s favourite horse. 17 Black will go down in legend as our version of Caligula’s horse, made a Senator by its owner. Photo: Shutterstock.com

That’s not too hard to understand, is it? The prestidigitations of Joseph Muscat, the third leg of this cauldron, are meant to distract you and confuse you. But facts are facts. Let’s stick to those.

On one level this has all the hallmarks of a classic case of bribery, corruption and money laundering.

Law enforcement agencies rarely come up on so much evidence in cases like this. Ninu Zammit and Michael Falzon managed to cover their tracks. Until they were caught by a leak from the Swiss banks where they hid their stash and were then absolved by the all-forgiving Muscat.

John Dalli too got away with it, so far. The evidence against him was never heard by a court of law because the all-forgiving Muscat made sure no policeman would prosecute the case. But he did lose his European Commission job in disgrace because José Manuel Barroso was not so forgiving.

The evidence in the hands of the police to slam Schembri and Mizzi in the cells that should be their home fell in their lap like rain from an unclouded sky. Everyone else did the work for them: the ICIJ, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Reuters, Times of Malta.

But all-forgiving Muscat is again blocking the natural path of justice with the obstructive power of the executive, armed with media he owns or controls, an Opposition which if he does not control is perfectly willing to add to the smoke and confusion that hides the crooks’ escape, a police force which he owns and controls and an emasculated democracy, a parody of what it should be.

Of course it takes two to tango and there are necessarily three elements to a bribe: the bribe itself, the bribee as it were and the briber.

Muscat is trying to sell everyone the idea that the envelope in which the bribe was wrapped – 17 Black – can be pulled on the rack until it confesses its crime. In acknowledging that something is sufficiently rotten in 17 Black to merit a criminal investigation and an inquiry, Muscat accepts the company features in the narrative of a crime. But he wants the inquiry to stop there like a murder inquiry that finds a bloody knife guilty but ignores the assassin who wielded it.

Inanimate objects – like knives and tax haven vehicles – can’t be found guilty of a crime and an inquiry that does not look at how and by whom the inanimate object was used, because Muscat does not wish it to, will find that 17 Black cannot be charged with anything.

Democracy is not just about electing governments

That’s when they can run away saying justice was served and accuse of bloody slander those who charge Schembri and Mizzi with corruption and Muscat with obstructing the justice that should be served on them.

This is a degree of absurdity that only deranged, megalomaniac, malignant narcissist tyrants come up with. History is replete with cautionary tales of the sort. 17 Black will go down in legend as our version of Caligula’s horse, made a Senator by its owner. Because in his mind that made sense and everyone was too scared to openly disagree.

But perhaps Muscat realises just how ridiculous his semantic acrobatics look and he really has no choice. After all, distracted as we are by the smoke and mirrors his government throws at us to distract us from its own devices, we forget to consider the possibility that Muscat himself is a mirror, a distraction to make us look away from the dark and true power that owns him and the lives of those who live here.

Because it takes two to tango. It’s not just about the bribe and those who received it. We do not talk anywhere near enough about those who pay it.

There are family dynasties that wield enormous power in this country, not quantified by votes or popular support and not tempered by the prospect of replacement by rivals in an electoral cycle. Unlike Nationalists or Labourites, corrupt politicians and honest ones, popular or cerebral, these oligarchs are always on top.

We speak of the institutions controlled by Muscat. But we do not ask who it is that controls Muscat, who makes him dance to silly tunes even at the conscious expense of his own dignity.

These dynasties have carved up the territory and they operate exclusively and, the 17 Black scandal now suggests, some of them with impunity. It is not only Mizzi and Schembri whose manifest connections to 17 Black are being ridiculously ignored. The actual owners of 17 Black, the partners who benefited from the gargantuan public contract awarded them by Schembri and Mizzi: they too benefit from the protective custody of a Prime Minister in office who stops justice outside the big green door of his lofty office.

Ninety-three kilometres of water away they have a name for this sort of situation: ‘infiltrazione mafiosa’. That term is used when a 1991 law is applied – as it has 306 times – when the Rome government dissolves a local government believed to be acting in the interest of an ‘associazione di stampo mafioso’ rather than in the public interest.

That’s when an organisation uses the power of coercion, intimidation or collaborative silence (omerta’) to grow their business, get public permits or concessions or secure public contracts from the government.

When that happens, when the facts emerge and the government does not act, it is presumed that those private interests have infiltrated the workings of government itself and government officials, elected or employed, are acting on behalf of those interests.

This is why so many mafiosi happily rushed to Malta. We have a municipal government here that the Italian Republic cannot dissolve if they manage to infiltrate it.

Our pride in our sovereignty and our determination to preserve the exercise of popular will in choosing our government are not some entitlement for being somehow more special than any other community of similar size in Sicily, Calabria, Campagna, Apulia and so on. We suffer the same risks.

But our sovereignty means that no distant capital can interfere and dismiss the local government we elect because of secret commitments we never hear of. Only we, the people, can keep our government in check and can hold our institutions to account when neglecting their duty to do that on our behalf.

Democracy is not just about electing governments. It is about those governments, and those who fund the people elected to run them, operating within the law. Ours, it would seem, do not.

It’s not that complicated.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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