No golden fleece for Jason

The relationship between Repubblika and the PN has never been a very comfortable one. Made up mostly of disgruntled former PN stalwarts, Repubblika has sometimes successfully managed to be the tail that wags the dog

Jason Azzopardi
Jason Azzopardi

In the end, Jason Azzopardi did the right thing when he decided to renounce his brief as a lawyer for Repubblika, in the case whereby the NGO had filed a criminal complaint asking the police to investigate the crew of the AFM gunboat P52 – as well as the Brigadier heading the AFM and the Prime Minister who are responsible for them – for attempted homicide by allegedly sabotaging a migrant dinghy in the high seas.

The allegation was not substantiated with facts and there is no solid evidence that this sabotaging really happened. In fact, a formal rebuttal of this allegation was made by the lawyer representing the crew.

New evidence submitted to the magistrate probing the soldiers ‘accused’ of sabotaging the dinghy suggests that the army personnel had acted correctly at all times.

The allegation seems to have originated from a tweet made by the NGO Alarm Phone on 9 April, alleging that Maltese soldiers had cut the cable of the dinghy’s motor and that one of them told the migrants: “I leave you to die in the water. Nobody will come from Malta.”

The NGO passed on its story to The Guardian and the New York Times and since these two newspapers reported it, someone apparently concluded that this was some sort of sacrosanct truth – which it was not. In fact the migrants on that particular dinghy on that particular day were actually later saved by the AFM and brought to Malta.

The PN did not follow this line, to the extent that Opposition leader Adrian Delia paid a courtesy visit to the HQ of the Armed Forces of Malta, a day after the criminal complaint was filed. During his visit, Delia praised the AFM soldiers for always being there to defend the country and thanked soldiers for their work in the difficult circumstances the country was experiencing.

Many do not think Repubblika’s complaint was justified – given the foggy circumstances around the case – to the extent that many suspect that, in this case, Repubblika had jumped the gun. But whether Repubblika’s course of action was justified or not is, up to a point, completely irrelevant to Jason Azzopardi’s misadventure.

What was relevant was the awkward situation in which Jason Azzopardi found himself. He had signed the complaint as one of Repubblika’s lawyers barely two weeks after he was officially appointed as the Opposition’s shadow minister for justice. Clearly something was wrong.

The attempt to pass on Azzopardi’s role in Repubblika’s criminal complaint as a private matter between a lawyer and his client was ridiculous. Repubblika does not need four lawyers to file a criminal complaint and the notion that the relationship between Repubblika and Jason Azzopardi was just an ordinary lawyer/client relationship was utter nonsense. Are we to believe as well that Repubblika pays Azzopardi for his legal services? Not in cash, but in brownie points, of course.

This particular Jason had to forego his quest for the Golden Fleece and come down to earth.

The criminal complaint was a political action and in acting as a lawyer in the case, Azzopardi was pursuing a line that went directly against the line being pursued by the Opposition, of which he not only forms part but is also entrusted with the role of a shadow minister. That he shadows justice was just the cherry on the soufflé.

Like many politicians in Malta, Azzopardi wears many hats, but as the editorial of The Malta Independent on Sunday put it last weekend: “Azzopardi must decide what hat he wants to wear the most.”

In the end, he chose the one that is vital to his political career - that of Shadow Minister for Justice.

The relationship between Repubblika and the PN has never been a very comfortable one. Made up mostly of disgruntled former PN stalwarts, Repubblika has sometimes successfully managed to be the tail that wags the dog.

Jason Azzopardi’s renouncing of his brief as Repubblika’s lawyer has put things in their proper perspective. Unwittingly, Jason Azzopardi has given Adrian Delia the break that he has been pursuing ever since he was elected PN leader.

The Ostrich Alliance

While most of the world has taken drastic action to fight the spread of coronavirus, four political leaders stand apart for their continued denials of the threat that the pandemic poses. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko, Turkmenistan’s autocratic ruler Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, and Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega have all refused to take coronavirus seriously.

The Financial Times reports that Oliver Stuenkel, a Brazilian professor of international relations, has dubbed them the Ostrich Alliance – a reference to the myth that the bird buries its head in the sand when faced with danger.

Aside from the health risks to their populations, their denial could lead to political tremors. Dissent in Nicaragua is around the corner, while in Brazil crowds have taken part in protest by banging pots and shouting ‘Bolsonaro murderer!’ from their windows. Mr Bolsonaro sparked renewed anger when he fired Luiz Henrique Mandetta, his health minister, following an argument over social distancing measures.

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, not only claims to be able to defeat COVID-19 through positive thinking, but also exhibits the ability to defy statistics: “No one will die of coronavirus in our country. I publicly declare this,” Mr Lukashenko said, even though his health ministry had already confirmed 29 deaths from the virus.

As Brazil became the first country in the southern hemisphere to reach 1,000 deaths from coronavirus, Bolsonaro went out for a stroll in defiance of social isolation practices recommended by his own health officials.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s autocratic president, had not been seen for a month and made no public statements about coronavirus, until a televised address in which he said the pandemic was “a sign from God” to switch massive spending on atomic bombs to healthcare.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, president of Turkmenistan, claims to have devised a homespun method to keep the country’s COVID-19 case count to zero: burning the herb yuzarlik, which he claims can ward off infectious diseases “invisible to the naked eye”.

Variety is still the spice of life.