The great train robbery

Castille served as a hub for allowing Joseph Muscat’s ‘chosen few’ to create structures to enrich themselves through kickbacks 

On 5 July, 2020, I penned a report for MaltaToday, at the height of summer, about the secret company Macbridge, now known to be owned by Shanghai Power Electric’s negotiator Cheng Chen.

That front-page report referred to the fact that Macbridge was acting as another conduit for moneys from government-financed projects, and as revealed by MaltaToday then, it stood for ‘Malta-China Bridge’.

Apart from that, I had made reference to the fact that it was Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, now charged as the alleged mastermind in the Caruana Galizia assassination, who had mentioned this specific fact to the police, sometime in November 2019, suggesting he could reveal all in return for a presidential pardon.

Needless to say, Joseph Muscat refused to concede him any form of a pardon.

Whether Muscat was even in a position to decide on this himself given the clear conflict of interest on the secret affairs of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, we will probably only know when it is too late, at least for Yorgen Fenech.

To my knowledge the Maltese police and lead investigator Keith Arnaud did little if anything about this information at the time. Truth be told, the police then did not even share intelligence with other departments, in this case the economic crimes squad (now FCID). At that point, the interrogation of Fenech was separate to anything having to do with Macbridge or the alleged “millions in corruption” Fenech claimed to have information about.

But it is also true that in 2019, as in those crucial two years after the assassination of Caruana Galizia, the entire apparatus at the service of the government executive – the police and the Malta Security Services – was run by people who had a lot to conceal. A case is in point was then police chief Lawrence Cutajar, who was not only close to Castille but even to certain criminals watching the back of the criminals implicated in the assassination.

In that July 2020 report, I had said that Fenech had told the police that he was ready to reveal details of the mysterious Macbridge company, which along with his own 17 Black, was to serve as the “main target clients” from whom banks could expect payments to flow into Keith Schembri’s and Konrad Mizzi’s secret Panama companies Tillgate and Hearnville.

That was information which, given what we know about 17 Black today, served as a motive for killing Caruana Galizia.

Of course, hats off to Reuters and the Times for last week’s revelations on the Cheng Chen affair. They uncovered the extensive details and dynamics of the structures put in place to facilitate this criminality. 

All this confirms our worst fears: that Castille served as a hub for allowing Muscat’s ‘chosen few’ to create structures to enrich themselves through kickbacks.

Yorgen Fenech had told police he knew the reason why Macbridge was set up, as well as the ownership of the company. I underlined that police investigators knew that Macbridge was an acronym that stood for ‘Malta And China Bridge’, a fact that could tie in into the Muscat administration’s deep ties with the Chinese on energy matters – that is Electrogas.

Indeed, the Egrant inquiry report had even brought to light an entity that was to be controlled by a secret company in the British Virgin Islands, to run a public-private partnership called “MACHIN Project” – an entity for the promotion of China-Malta investment.

The point is that the police had enough information to act then.  If they acted in any way, the steps taken were incredibly slow.

I am in no way suggesting that Yorgen Fenech should be given a pardon. After all, there are pardons… and there are plea bargains. But the fact that the police did not act there and then on the potential corruption inside Joseph Muscat’s administration is sad, shocking and curious.

Neither did we have to wait for the Prime Minister to write to the Commissioner of Police Angelo Gafà for action to be taken on this matter. The writing has been on the wall since last summer.

What is most astonishing at this point is the complete collapse of Muscat’s political legacy. Three years ago I was the most ardent defender of Muscat’s denial in the Egrant allegations. I went out of my way to stand up against the allegation. And I was alone.

I knew that there was prejudice and hate towards Labour and the Muscat family. I knew that there was an establishment that believed it was entitled to short-circuit a government administration in a bid to take back power. I did not put it past certain individuals that they would simply invent and concoct stories. 

To a certain extent, at least in the Egrant affair, they ran to conclusions without waiting for the facts to surface. The weird character of Pilatus intern Maria Efimova, apparently so crucial to the story itself, only further bungled the storyline itself when she was unable to present the goods she claimed she had to the magisterial inquiry. Neither Daphne Caruana Galizia nor the erstwhile PN leader Simon Busuttil had the beef to sustain all the allegations. The Muscat administration knew this in 2017: inside talk on the next election had been ongoing since 2016; the 17 Black cryptic post was published in February 2017; the election was announced in May 2017… Muscat and Labour knew that keeping Simon Busuttil talking on Egrant was their key to win over voters who were unconvinced by those in the PN or Caruana Galizia who could not confirm the authenticity of their own claims.

This actually helped Labour. And given what we knew (and did not know at the time), I feel I judged matters on the basis of evidence at hand.

What emerged too late in the day was the leaked FIAU report concerning 17 Black and its link to Panama. There was the clear suggestion of offshore companies being used as conduits for massive kickbacks.

So today, even though it hurts very much to say it, I might have been wrong… actually, I am convinced that Egrant was planned as a conduit for kickbacks.

Certainly, it was a structure that Nexia and Schembri knew how to use, but it was in the making and uncovered way before it had taken shape.

If not for Joseph Muscat personally, it was for someone who had the Labour Party in mind (didn’t Keith Schembri write ‘e-grant’ in his last Facebook post, a play on that ‘election grant’ chatter?).

Because for those who sought politics as another way of enriching themselves, it was only the continuation of the Muscat dynasty that could guarantee the prolongation of this ‘great train robbery’. It was all about greed. And that is why the Labour Party and Robert Abela must disown Muscat to exit this conundrum.

It is true that people in elections will still vote on whether their purchasing power is better off or worse, but let us not underestimate the value and intellect of our voter and the importance of morality.

A Happy Easter to all!