So Joseph Muscat walked into a courtroom...

Joseph Muscat continues to believe that his political legacy cannot be erased because of this dark chapter. I would have liked to think so as well, but I am wrong

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat entering the law courts in Valletta, accompanied by his lawyer Charlon Gouder, on Friday morning. (Photo: Nicole Meilaq/MaltaToday)
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat entering the law courts in Valletta, accompanied by his lawyer Charlon Gouder, on Friday morning. (Photo: Nicole Meilaq/MaltaToday)

I guess I was not the only person glued to the live-blog of MaltaToday when former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat faced the board of inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination. His appearance and delivery, refusing to be framed by a preconceived narrative and immediately setting the tone of proceedings, proved that he had not lost none of his panache for biting narrative, an abundance of clarity, and the ability to cross-reference historical political anecdotes to justify his actions. It was classic Muscat, a political mind in fifth gear.

I have always admired Joseph Muscat, having considered him to be a great mind, and even despised those that attacked him for the simple premise of being leader of the Labour party, a ‘Labourite’ as it were. I disliked those who judged him not on his qualities, but for his political DNA which is why I vehemently contradicted Daphne Caruana Galizia over the years for her obsessive loathing of the Muscat family.

I certainly disagreed with him on many issues, but I think that the country needed such a man as it emerged from the shadows of the stuffiness and self-righteousness of 25 years of PN government. That pretty much ended in December 2019, because no matter how good or great people thought Muscat was, the gravity of the events that unfolded upon the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, could not justify any position I had taken in the past.

But before I come to the most important statement of all his statements, and I am referring to the ownership of 17 Black or rather his knowledge that his chief of staff was in bed with a person of interest in the murder, I would like to turn to the public inquiry and the board and its entourage that turned it into one big circus.

I have appeared before the three judges of the inquiry. All the judges were appointed by the politicians of the day thanks to the favour they were bestowed upon by the government of the day. They lived and breathed, without protesting too much, in a system that was built on patronage, political graces, pedigree, and tributes to power. Reams of newsprint took that system to task for decades; nobody dared squeak in protest. It was all comfy before 2013.

On Friday, it turned out that Muscat grilled the inquisitors on the board he himself accepted to have set up. And he reminded them that impunity and the state of rot they were expected to reveal in relation to the Caruana Galizia murder did not start in 2013. That the incestuous state of affairs in politics in Malta was predominant not only in the Labour government but well before 2013. “Frankly, the direction taken by this Inquiry resembles more an exercise in curiosity that reduced its credibility and undermined the legitimacy of such important work. In the best of cases, what was heard had the scope of seeing whether Daphne Caruana Galizia was right or wrong in some of the things she wrote. This is a legitimate exercise but it is not part of the Terms of Reference. In the worst of cases, this Inquiry has deteriorated into a political exercise.”

What he said was true. I would add, from having read the proceedings and having personally taken part in the inquiry, that the board was most of the time unprepared, ignorant of the facts and dependant on what was being fed to them by the lawyers of the Caruana Galizia family.

When I stood before that inquiry on three separate occasions, I could not help notice the incredibly jaundiced temperament of the judges towards anyone who formed part of the ‘Muscat era’.  Abigail Lofaro and Joseph Said Pullicino in particular seemed rather adept at either whispering commentaries or facial expressions of umbrage.

Muscat made a scathing attack on the inquiry board by reminding them of the historical details that they had conveniently left out or ignored.  And indeed, it seems the inquiry has served to divide rather than bring everyone together to at least agree on the reasons that led to the murder of a journalist.

The inquiry of course will never understand that many of Caruana Galizia’s own writings, not her exposés on government corruption, had previously also raised the political temperature by upholding the tribal animosity that dominates the politics of this small nation-state. Indeed, the inquiry has not read in between the fine lines that often defined Caruana Galizia as an investigative journalist, and other times as a paid publicist or unofficial propaganda machine, or where punching down on individuals who served as exemplars of ‘Labour’ simply went out of bounds of journalistic practice.

Certainly enough, all this is indeed secondary and very much beside the point. In 2019, I called a spade a spade to condemn Joseph Muscat.

No fault of Daphne Caruana Galizia or any opinion I had of her could be used to rationalise Muscat’s actions and what had happened inside the OPM. There remains no greater tragedy than this assassination, no matter the adversarial relationship we had, no matter the divisive opinion that defined her.

But back to the inquiry proceedings: worst of all was Muscat’s admission that he knew that Keith Schembri was indeed involved with 17 Black with Yorgen Fenech; this, after having denied knowing what 17 Black was all throughout 2019.

What’s more: way back in April 2018, in the presence of Keith Schembri, he was informed by the Malta Security Services that the Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech was a person of interest in the Caruana Galizia assassination. Then and there, he should have turned to Schembri and asked him to leave at once, if only by some excuse or by the ruthless decree to make him resign. Instead, he retained his enforcer. And when later it was conclusively revealed that Yorgen Fenech owned 17 Black, which had already been linked to Schembri’s Panama companies, he should have had no second thoughts again, but severed his alliance.

There was simply no excuse. And he did not break this bond for several reasons. I could list then here, but they would sound far-fetched and difficult to believe. I believe I know the answers.

Muscat’s excuse is that he was advised by the MSS to remain in contact with Fenech and go about his business as if nothing was happening around him. Anyone who knows Muscat will know that he is his own man, with the assertiveness to sketch an excuse when he wishes to procrastinate or postpone a decision. On this particular occasion, he was not his own man.

Another crucial question that must be asked is whether Daphne Caruana Galizia knew who 17 Black belonged to back in February 2017, and if she did, had she approached Yorgen Fenech? It is a question that needs to be answered now, for it could unravel the most interesting angle to this political calamity.

Joseph Muscat continues to believe that his political legacy cannot be erased because of this dark chapter. I would have liked to think so as well, but I am wrong.

Had he acted in the best interests of his office and country when he was made aware of facts that confirm the irrefutable link between the person of interest in Malta’s most despicable murder and his chief of staff, his story might have read differently.

He chose not to, for his own good reasons, and for that, history will not be kind.