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Don’t dare raise the subject, or else …

People, especially politicians, purposely do not distinguish between perception and truth, between compliance reports and investigations

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
15 May 2017, 8:39am
The allegations are clear. The evidence, if it exists, is not yet entirely clear.
The allegations are clear. The evidence, if it exists, is not yet entirely clear.
There are always two sides to a coin, but there is only one truth.  

And of course I am referring to the truth behind the most serious allegation of all. That is, that the company Egrant had an account at Pilatus bank and that the beneficiary was Michelle Muscat, wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Now rather strangely, we have not heard much more about this from the leader of Opposition since he first made so much noise about the unsubstantiated claim, which he at first made his own. All the focus has been on Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna, the accusation of which he took ownership of.

There is also another truth. I am expected not to comment on this matter because it is too hot to handle, almost unacceptable that someone questions the popular sentiment of one tribe.

Well, I believe I should do what I am best at doing, that is, saying it as it is.

As things stand all the players – that is, the Prime Minister, his wife, Pilatus Bank and of course Brian Tonna – have denied the allegations. There would be serious repercussions if they are caught lying. But as things stand the claims being made need to be verified. The allegations are clear. The evidence, if it exists, is not yet entirely clear.

A bank account belonging to Egrant at Pilatus Bank does not simply disappear from the radar inside a bank. You do not walk into an office under CCTV surveillance and pack the evidence in a bag and walk away.  

Let us for a moment assume that the allegation is true. Then we all know what the consequences are. No clarification needed here. It is over for Muscat et al.

On the other hand, if it is proven to be a lie, there are equally very serious ramifications.  

There was once a story that read like this.

In 2004, Joe Zahra, once a former driver for Lorry Sant and a policeman, and later an integral part of the Bondi+ programme, concocted and fabricated an investigative report claiming kickbacks involving a finance minister (John Dalli) and the daughter (Claudine Cassar) of the then Contracts Department’s director.  

It turned out to be a lie, but not before Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had asked the minister to resign, and not before Claudine Cassar had experienced some very sleepless nights.  

Well, Zahra was eventually sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on appeal and there was a very bad aftertaste. At least that is what I thought it was.

The sad thing is that irrespective of the seriousness of the whole matter, the people who had added credence to the Zahra story – the lawyers, the media, Lou Bondì and all the king’s men – it was only Zahra who spent 730 days behind bars.

The allegations in the Egrant matter are very damning. And I do not see the Christian spirit of forgiveness coming into play if any one side is caught lying.

There are also some crass misconceptions at play. People, especially politicians, purposely do not distinguish between perception and truth, between compliance reports and investigations. People do not even know what the rule of law is all about: to some it is the rule of perceptions.

So that is Egrant for you. A potpourri of allegations, perceptions, prejudice, circumstantial evidence and magisterial inquiries.

But apart from Egrant, there is the Keith Schembri question. He has a Pilatus Bank account, in which he says he received money from Brian Tonna because back in 2012 he says he made a loan of €100,000 to Brian Tonna. The accusation, as suggested by the FIAU’s own compliance report, is that the money was in fact a kickback from the passports sales scheme.

The inquiry about Keith Schembri should be unequivocal and the lessons from this sour experience enshrined in the political dogma of the political parties. What the inquiry will seek out is the link between the payment and the passports scheme, and whether the loan exists.

This was flagged in the report sent to the bank by the FIAU, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, which queried whether this was a ‘bogus loan’. The magistrate has been shown the full explanation furnished to the FIAU on its compliance report.

Having said this, Keith Schembri’s business operations may not be at all criminal prima facie, but the secrecy and his link to offshore companies and allegations to IIP applicants embarrasses the Prime Minister no end, and does not help the PM at all.

So Schembri may have thought his modus operandi in his personal business life was no different to what he could do in the sensitive post he held at the Office of the Prime Minister. He could not have been more wrong – indeed, he should have resigned a year ago, despite his importance in Labour’s central nervous system.

That in fact is clearly one of the main reasons he is constantly attacked by the Opposition, because like one of his predecessors in the post, Richard Cachia Caruana, he also has a very important role in the party’s engine room – an engine room, let it be said, that delivered astounding results that humiliated the Nationalist Party in 2013.

Today we can see the consequences of that humiliation – the PN has smelled blood and is baying for more, no matter the consequences. To the extent that the PN has taken the PD into its fold, with Labour trying to show up the ‘coalition’ about who is really leading: Simon Busutti, as leader of the PN, or Marlene Farrugia, the head of the fledgling PD.

I have known both Schembri and Cachia Caruana. Both of them have a great mind, but Schembri is by far the more human, the more approachable of the two.

And unlike others who had a somewhat weird relationship to personal assistants of past prime ministers (let the editor not to have ever spoken to the PM’s right-hand man cast the first stone…), this newspaper has written countless leaders on Schembri and calling for his resignation.

Others cannot say the same thing when it comes to Richard Cachia Caruana. Which is why it strikes me as laughable when Daphne Caruana Galizia, who published so-called “logs” of my conversations – data that was illegally obtained – said in her reply to the Data Protection Commissioner that her actions were justified because MaltaToday has never written about Keith Schembri. Obviously untrue. But would I even compare her hate speech with proper journalism on the men behind the throne? Should I question how many times she wrote about Cachia Caruana when she enjoyed the man’s confidence? 

As for the illegal dissemination of telephone logs a service provider has informed me that if I persist in my theory that the phone call logs originated from their good selves, they will commence court procedures. They have their reputation at stake. Very good. Considering that I am rather a good client of theirs with a healthy account representing several mobile and landlines I think they should be awarded a special trophy for public relations.

The question is: if that information did not come from some employee at either GO or Vodafone, who could it have been? The security service? Some other sinister source? Time will surely tell.

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