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Time to decide

The fact remains that the Gozo inquiry will get us nowhere if it is restricted to a simple question and answer session

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
6 March 2017, 7:55am
The police are the common denominator in three inquiries launched after stories by MaltaToday: the investigators are being investigated – Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela meeting members of the police
The police are the common denominator in three inquiries launched after stories by MaltaToday: the investigators are being investigated – Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela meeting members of the police
It has been a smashing week for stories and for MaltaToday. Two inquiries, one for our story on the Gozo drugs revelation, and then the findings of the inquiry on CapitalOne. 

As usual Anton Refalo, the Gozo minister, did his Houdini impression and declared: “It was not I, it was not I.” 

But the fact remains that the Gozo inquiry will get us nowhere if it is restricted to a simple question and answer session. It must have the power to investigate. Our job in the media is to report and reveal the truth, not prosecute people. Inquiries should not replicate the work of journalists, but prepare the ground work for the people who have an executive role.

In the three MaltaToday stories that led to inquiries, the CapitalOne story, the Bogdanovic case and now the Gozo drugs story, there has been one common denominator: the police, who should be doing the investigating, but are the ones being investigated. And this is the fundamental problem – although let us not for a minute believe that the malaise in the police started now.

Take the CapitalOne inquiry. Beppe Fenech Adami said the inquiry exculpates him. Does it? It surely does NOT release him from his responsibilities as a director of a fiduciary. It surely does NOT release him from the fact that the money siphoned through companies he was legally responsible for, originated from dubious sources. And it surely does NOT make him eligible for the Mr Clean title.

If he were another politician there would be calls for his resignation. Whether Fenech Adami was ignorant of CapitalOne’s affairs is beside the point. Ignorance may be bliss, but as all lawyers will tell us, not a reason accepted at law. And a directorship is not something that rids you of legal responsibility. He knows that.

As a vociferous critic of the Labour government, which he calls ‘the most corrupt ever’, he has been at the forefront of the Panama Papers onslaught. But there is little doubt that Fenech Adami is ill suited to beat the corruption drum. As are his colleagues, who are deep in the proverbial muck with their involvement with fiduciaries.  

Because if Panama is wrong, how does servicing other clients to avoid tax in Malta sound? Legal hair-splitting will ensue… avoidance not evasion, he’d say. Quite right. But does that make it any more moral?

Politics is certainly theatre, but there is great hypocrisy, with the accusers being also offenders. When all of them start accusing each other of being more corrupt and dirty, they are directing attention away from themselves. Politicians like Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco will argue they are not full-time politicians.

However they accepted this responsibility. If the full-time gig does not suit them, they should have not taken on the role of deputy leaders, and instead stuck by their private clients.

De Marco should also clarify how he deals with his astounding conflict of interest as the PN deputy leader who acts on behalf of a company acquiring a strategic piece of public land, which his own party has also questioned the value of. I remember being patted on the back for outing Labour deputy leader Charles Mangion as the Pendergardens notary before the 2008 election. Now we get evil stares. Not all animals are equal.

But it is clear that money means a lot for certain MPs. Their asset declarations say as much. Which is why they should prioritise their life choices, and pass on politics. Because it seems the money is not enough. These politicians also want the glory and the pride of being at the top, pontificating, privately living a life vastly different from the one we imagine them to lead.

Both de Marco and Fenech Adami are heirs of their successful politician fathers, but both a pale shadow of them. Successful lawyers and influential politicians, their fathers held sway at a time when the press was compliant and accommodating. They would not be quizzed about their lives, because at the time there was no investigative journalism to start with.

The truth in the CapitalOne inquiry is that the police did not investigate further when the PEP’s name came up. There is little doubt in my mind that Fenech Adami’s name was a serious dilemma for the Maltese police, with none of the officials willing to take the case further.

Surely the biggest culprit must be the former Assistant Commissioner, subsequently Police Commissioner, Michael Cassar, who as the senior police officer at the time could have taken the decision to push the investigation forward. He must have certainly known how hot the potato really was.  

But during that same period the police was busy with Dalligate. The former European commissioner John Dalli was fair play during the election. Fenech Adami, parliamentary assistant for home affairs, was not. This was election time. Timing, choices and positions are of the essence.

CapitalOne also raises the issue of Malta’s financial services industry. Much is said about its importance, and less about the morality of its conduct or indeed the MFSA’s limited ability to ensure compliance from some 70,000 companies. This should seriously worry the Maltese government.

Additionally, MPs should be barred from taking up fiduciary roles. Fenech Adami will of course not be shaken by the CapitalOne report. At least not in public. He will stand firm and look one in the eye, as if he were the model politician whom we should all look up to.

***

Elsewhere in the Gozo drugs inquiry, we’ve had a solemn declaration by the Gozo minister, Anton Refalo, who said that he did not know what the hell we were talking about. Refalo has this great vocation of deflecting all criticism. It is not ingenious, but he persists.

Refalo has said this before, when he said that he did not know footballer Daniel Bogdanovic. But in my deposition in the Bogdanovic inquiry I explained the situation in Gozo: the politician versus the police, the police boss versus the inspector and the link between the club and the politician, and more. I explained the strange role of Assistant Commissioner Carmelo Magri, based in Malta, and talking to the Gozo police about the Bogdanovic arrest.

Bogdanovic was released on police bail in time for a Sunday match because someone demanded special treatment for the Xewkija Tigers midfielder. He was in police custody after sending his wife threatening SMSes and for not keeping his gun in a locked cabinet. So what – affarijiet żgħar (small matters).

Pressure was brought to bear upon a woman police inspector after phone calls from Assistant Commissioner Magri and a conversation the police inspector had with Gozo’s police superintendent Antonello Grech. Bogdanovic is an important name in football, which explains why things happened differently, and also why the original version of some sources changed when faced with some finger-pointing.

The suggestion made to the Inspector, Edel Mary Camilleri was subtle: should Bogdanovic be kept in the lock-up “more than necessary” – even though the inspector had agreed with Magistrate Joanne Vella Cuschieri that the footballer would be arraigned under arrest on Monday, 31 October, before the 48-hour limit lapsed for people kept in detention?

Bogdanovic’s arrest elicited interest from AC Magri because Xewkija coach Jesmond Zammit felt comfortable enough to pick up the phone and ask about police business. Zammit happens to serve as chief of staff to Ian Borg, the parliamentary secretary for EU funds. 

The inquiry carried out by retired AFM commander Carmel Vassallo never mentioned the fact that Zammit is a government official, a person of trust who felt he could freely call up Magri – known for his Labour sympathies – to inquire about his footballer’s arrest.

Vassallo in the end declared there were no outside influences but only that the release of Bogdanovic lacked insensitivity.

Now I will even add for correctness’s sake that Anton Refalo is connected to Xewkija Tigers because he knows the president of the club very, very well, having also served as a guarantor for the club’s new premises.

In the meantime we await the third inquiry of the Gozo drugs scandal, headed by one lawyer John Vassallo… with no back-up or investigative team. I fear we will hear more and more platitudes and nothing more. 

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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