From fourth to level 21
The mystery Dubai company 17 Black was first mention by murdered blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia in early 2017. Not much else, if anything, was heard about it but the next time it hit the headlines it was with a bang.
A joint investigation by the Times of Malta and international news agency Reuters found that the police were in possession of an intelligence report, compiled by the government’s anti-money laundering agency – the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, naming Electrogas power station director and businessman Yorgen Fenech as the owner of 17 Black.
A leaked e-mail also identified 17 Black as one of two sources of income for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate that Nexia BT, consultants to the Office of the Prime Minister, had opened for Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri.
Rightly so, the Nationalist Party pounced on this, piling pressure on the Prime Minister to proceed against his two political associates caught with their pants down. The flagrant connection between big business and politicians practically escaped the PN’s attention. What happened over the past few days may explain why.
The Sunday Times of Malta reported that two Nationalist MPs – Kristy Debono and Hermann Schiavone – visited Mr Fenech at his office in Level 21, Portomaso Tower, St Julian’s.
When contacted by journalists of this newspaper, Ms Debono first denied but then admitted she had met Mr Fenech about “possible sponsorship” in connection with a conference.
Mr Schiavone replied there was no need to giver any explanations but, yes, he did have a meeting at Portomaso Tower, though he would not say with whom.
Opposition leader Adrian Delia said on Monday the encounter did not dent his party’s credentials in the fight against corruption. Shortly afterwards, Ms Debono issued a statement apologising for her “error of judgement”.
This episode may not have dented the PN’s battle against corruption but it has certainly dug a big hole in the already weak credibility of its leadership and its ability to practise what it preaches.
The meeting at Portomaso Tower between two MPs known to be very close to Dr Delia and a leading businessman may or may not have been about a “possible conference”. What is certain is that it proves yet again that a political party has no qualms discussing with business, in this case a businessman involved in a controversy about which the same political party is calling for the heads of a Cabinet minister and perhaps the most influential non-elected member of government. This is political hypocrisy of the first order, especially if reports that meetings between the same businessman and a senior PN exponent occur or occurred ‘regularly’ prove to be correct.
Dr Delia says he was not informed in advance of the meeting at Portomaso. Given the controversy surrounding 17 Black and his declarations and demands on the case, the Opposition leader should ask both MPs to consider their position for putting him and the party in such an embarrassing situation.
If it results that Dr Delia did know about the meeting, then his own position becomes untenable.
Evidently, the politics-business connection has been raised from level four – where Joseph Muscat supposedly met businessmen at the party headquarters prior to the 2013 election – to level 21 at Portomaso Tower.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial