Last man standing

Dalli was not exactly Mr Darling, and in many ways his deportment does not help his plight... Nonetheless I cannot say that in this Island of ours there are many journalists who are willing to take a stand and say it as it is

The Philip Morris Strategy report revealed this Monday on France 2
The Philip Morris Strategy report revealed this Monday on France 2

Over ten years ago I recall an article, ‘The beheading of John’, in the Maltese Sunday Times. I was abroad and remember reading the article on my return. It was written by the man who worked very hard for the resignation of John Dalli. His incredible last sentence read, “It is easy to follow the mob and kick a man when he’s down.”

The same author of that article had, together with a posse of journalists from The Times and The Malta Independent, zoned in on Dalli in the year of the PN leadership contest and aired several programmes on State TV to fuel a made-up story. Yes, concocted by one notorious member of the author’s team. At the time neither PBS nor the Broadcasting Authority found anything wrong about the nature of his programme.

That person, and this is very important, at the time invented a story that Dalli was taking kickbacks in relation to contracts at Mater Dei. The person was eventually sentenced to two years for his fabrication.

And the Prime Minister believed this story at the time.

I prefer to believe that the then Prime Minister (Gonzi) was overjoyed with the story. This source of the story happened to be a self-appointed investigator, a free mason, an ex-Lorry Sant bodyguard and a former police sergeant.  Lorry Sant, for those who are too young to remember, was the ‘terrible man’ that every Nationalist was supposed to remember and dislike

The former police sergeant was Joe Zahra, the trusted associate and aide to Mr Lou Bondi. Yes the same individual, Mr Bondi, who is now in Joseph Muscat’s good books, after having played the PN’s tune and castigated the Labour Party or anyone who criticised Gonzi, having done rather well financially under the PN administration for his TV and marketing exploits.

But let us move on. Last Monday I was in Hall 14, with nine libel cases facing the same magistrate and the same group of aggrieved individuals, Edgar Galea Curmi, Peter Fenech – who by the way was declared by the court not to be a public person – Austin Gatt, who was there too, was his usual arrogant self, and Richard Cachia Caruana.

Richard Cachia Caruana has taken offence about an opinion I penned several years ago when I opined that the origins of many spiteful articles written by others at the time have his matchless trademark.

His lawyer, Joe Zammit Maempel, decided to cross-examine John Dalli over a previous testimony.

Yes, the same lawyer who is professional enough not to be influenced by the fact that he was in the past politically appointed by John Dalli to head the Lotteries and Gaming Authority.

He insisted – again in his unrivalled style – that in spite of Dalli’s insistence that Steve Mallia and other The Times journalists had written about Dalli, there was only one article in 2004 about Dalli penned by Steve Mallia.

The Times’ report the next day made a meal of Dalli’s testimony. 

But I searched in my files and discovered dozens of articles for one month alone, the month of June 2004. Just over 50 articles. 

Either Zammit Maempel was misled or else Zammit Maempel does not know how to do research.

As he presented the document, Cachia Caruana looked at me, smiled – and that is saying something – and said something that was unintelligible to me. 

It could have been about his benefits, which he was not taxed for, or perhaps about all the people he ridiculed when he used to run the show. I do not know.

I did not smile back. I have nothing on my conscience, and if there is a just God, I know I have a much fairer chance than he. And if there is an incinerator in hell, he had better invest in some burn creams.

Cachia Caruana in his heyday was omnipresent and omnipotent. Let no one doubt that. But no one, as we know, is forever. Though Cachia Caruana is always eyeing any opportunity to get back in the fray.

One article in The Times was a long interview with Gonzi, the question and answer type, the type of interview you give when you want to be nice to the interviewee, and of course the interviewer was the present editor-in-chief of The Times stable.

The last question in the interview read like this: If Mr Dalli offered you his resignation tomorrow, would you accept it?

Wow, I really have to wonder who shaped that question. But then I can only wonder.

I guess he was doing his job, like all other journalists are supposed to do, but to give the impression that The Sunday Times then (and perhaps now too) was not close to Castille, and the men who ran Castille, is to treat us and me like an imbecile at the least.

That was ten years ago, we all know where we stand today. I do not think that The Times should share our views or we theirs. I do not believe we should confront each other but then neither am I going to accept being taken for a ride.

We have all aged and become wiser and perhaps a little more ‘tolerant’.  But I do not agree with condemning men because it suited certain politicians, and with warping the truth.

The day after the court testimony, France 2, one of France’s most followed stations and a State TV media house, screened a programme which revealed the tobacco industry’s strategy, which clearly showed that they had to specifically target John Dalli.

The local news media did not report France 2 apart (ironically) from The Malta Independent, home to Malta’s longest living hate blogger.

The news report, hosted by one of France’s most respectable journalists, Elise Lucet, exposed an internal report by Philip Morris which showed that the tobacco industry were informed secretly of the changes to the tobacco directive and that they planned to derail the changes by targeting the commissioner.

In a nutshell the programme highlighted that Kessler, chief of OLAF, the EU anti-fraud agency, had no answer to the fact that OLAF had a conflict of interest since it accepted funding from Philip Morris in its fight against contraband.

The France 2 programme also explains that the timeline of the

directive was pushed back after OLAF started their “investigation” on the insistence of Ms Catherine Day.

And the most important item of all, the changes in the tobacco directive that were earmarked by the tobacco industry and were changed when Tonio Borg became Commissioner, are evident in the report.

That, I am afraid, excites the press abroad but not the Maltese press. 

Dalli was not exactly Mr Darling, and in many ways his deportment does not help his plight. But that does not justify bad or devious reporting, or both. Neither does it explain why the tobacco industry has benefitted from his resignation and that there is evidence of entrapment.

Nonetheless I cannot say that in this Island of ours there are many journalists who are willing to take a stand and say it as it is.

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