Defamation on Egrant no comparison to assassination

Though having been ‘exonerated’ by the Egrant magisterial inquiry, Joseph Muscat should be curating better his integrity after it went up in smoke in the revelations of the links between Castille and Yorgen Fenech 

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat

I still do not understand why former prime minister Joseph Muscat has persisted in his defamation case against Matthew Caruana Galizia, as well as the PN press (namely Karl Gouder and Mario Frendo) on the Egrant affair.

I say this because, for a politician who once aspired to become President of the European Council, he has always been astute at a game of political chess, always watching the next move and able to predict the next moves ahead.

Surely enough, the Caruana Galizia family has nothing to lose in confronting him in court, for it will be another encounter to showcase the flaws of the Muscat administration that led to his tumultuous fall from grace.

I would think Muscat would appreciate this point and, though having been ‘exonerated’ by the magisterial inquiry (the Egrant allegations could not be proven, least of all by the authors and the whistleblower who accused the Muscats in the first place), he should be curating better his integrity after it went up in smoke in the revelations of the links between Castille and Yorgen Fenech.

I was perhaps the only journalist from the independent press who openly queried Daphne Caruana Galizia and all the other parties that played to her tune in the Egrant affair. For doing that, the social media trolls and the PN lashed out at me in a punishing way. There was no reprieve from the verbal diarrhoea my family and I endured for me deciding not to believe the Egrant story.

At the time, I believed Muscat; I’d say that I respected him and for that I accepted his denial of the allegation. I also knew how blinded Daphne Caruana Galizia could be in hitting out at Labour, at times being too dependent on hearsay. In this case, given the dearth of any proof about Egrant, her gullibility in taking Maria Efimova’s word seems quite surprising. But I have always had a habit to never believe a story that is being spun by a political party.

I did question many of Efimova’s statements: such as the notorious ‘kitchen safe’ full of documents at Pilatus Bank. I queried the weird connection between former police inspector Jonathan Ferris and Efimova herself, the woman he charged with misappropriation of Pilatus cash; the former, as police inspector, would often see his cases given special treatment on Caruana Galizia’s website, such as the Dalli-Bahamas affair; then Efimova accused him of being in cahoots with a senior Pilatus bank official at the time of her first charges; but as FIAU inspector later, Ferris went on to zoom in on Pilatus.

As it happens, the Egrant investigation by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja found that Ferris committed perjury: the inquiring magistrate was told at one point that the secret Panamanian company had been owned by the Labour Party, to serve as a vehicle for its electoral funds. 

Ferris had also claimed that a $600,000 transaction from a politically exposed person in Azerbaijan to company Buttardi, owned by wife to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Michelle Muscat, was identified by him. The latter had been published during Caruana Galizia’s storm of Egrant reveals.

The sheer volume of allegations just led me to question the veracity of the story. Others must have thought all this was too good to be true. And certainly enough, that is never journalism.

Still, today – if I had to turn back time – in full knowledge of what went down, I would not stand up for Muscat.

However, readers should take note that Pilatus Bank was doing nothing different to any other bank in Malta at the time. Sure, it served Keith Schembri. But many other banks in Malta were serving PEPs and dubious clients. Nobody batted an eyelid about Muammar Gaddafi and his sons having bank accounts here; nobody said anything about Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos having accounts and companies here. Pilatus got the stick and was single-handedly destroyed by a maelstrom of assertions and media attention.

Pilatus is a big diversion from the real motive that led to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a motive intrinsically linked to major government contracts, insider dealing and kickbacks, PEPs connected to 17 Black and foreign bank accounts, and the Panama link for some thank-you fees. Countless other bank accounts could still exist in other dominions.

Surely enough, Daphne was slowly building a narrative – it had many missing bits, but it was not wrong.

Muscat could have kicked out Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in 2016 at the height of the Panama scandal; he could have acted boldly the minute Yorgen Fenech was made a person of interest in the Caruana Galizia assassination; he could have chosen not to steer the media’s attention away from Fenech and onto other individuals... perhaps that way his continued defamation case could be overlooked.

But with such a compendium of dirt and political intrigue on the Caruana Galizia murder, the defamation case is simply ill-advised. I am no fan of Repubblika’s self-centred and self-righteous tub-thumping, but surely they cannot be blamed for what people think about Egrant and whether it was ever linked to Muscat. The revelations alone in the Caruana Galizia murder and public inquiries cannot stop anyone from concluding that the rot went deeper than it appeared in the first place.

It looks like it was all about greed and power. And of course, the fear of getting caught.

Ultimately, before any criminal prosecution of the Efimovas of the world, or the shady characters who created false documents, we should also be clear about the fact that people very close to the PN leadership played a big part in the Egrant scandal.

I never liked Caruana Galizia. I disliked her harsh treatment of critics and pariahs. But we need to get to terms with the ignominy and political malevolence that led to the murder of a mother and a journalist. 

Like many in this nation, I want to see the perpetrators and those who prolonged the capture of those responsible for her heinous killing, tried for this crime. 

For murder is incomparable to defamation. It is unforgivable.