The Caflangu and the frame-up

To claim that all those gifts from Gaffarena were now part of some elaborate frame-up was utterly silly and stupid. 

As a young boy, my mother – a nut-cracker of a woman who was however as sweet as Turkish delight – would lovingly describe me as a caflanga, a Maltese word for being clumsy. I was constantly hitting my big toe against some chair and invariably having problems wearing uncomfortable school shoes because of my big, bruised toe. I did not quite get what caflanga really stood for, and never bothered to ask my mother. Later, I got it. And last Thursday, Nationalist MP Joe Cassar in parliament provided me with a perfect illustration of the caflangu.

Describing Cassar as clumsy is kind. He has been a foolish man and very economical with the truth about his relationship with Joe Gaffarena and whether as a minister he declared any gifts or services he was rendered by this man.

To claim that all those gifts from Gaffarena were now part of some elaborate frame-up was utterly silly and stupid. It was also claimed that everything had been manipulated, when Cassar knows himself that he tried to use other people’s influence with MaltaToday so that this newspaper would not carry the story.

The matter is very simple.

I should make it very clear, especially to those who suffer from short memories and those who are politically blinkered, that I was the first one to ask for Emmanuel Mallia’s and for Michael Falzon’s resignations. Those two, by the way, were/are Labour ministers (although Mallia still looks more Nationalist than the Nationalists themselves, but I digress).

I have to say I expected better of Joe Cassar, who is a psychiatrist by profession.

Earlier this year in August, Cassar personally approached me to “please” hang on to my story about the car that Joe Gaffarena had sort of given to his daughter. I listened to him at a cafeteria at Skyparks and gave him my word that I would not publish the story before 4 September, as he asked. The reasons for this date were rather personal for him, so I will not go into them. But he told me in very clear terms that he did not care what happened after this date.

As it happens, I was also being whispered to by other people in contact with Cassar, and who happen to be close to Labour, not to carry the story. Because you see, politics is all about people stabbing each other, while real journalism is about getting out the story.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, at a press conference Joe Cassar presented a version of events that seemed to be a badly rehearsed drama, where he refused to confirm whether he had been gifted anything from Gaffarena; he admitted that same evening that he set off the purchase of a car against a €1,000 donation to the PN.

Then on Thursday evening in parliament, Cassar attempted to give the impression that he had been a victim, a victim of a frame up.

He has got to be kidding. Cassar cultivated a special relationship with Joe Gaffarena just in the same way other Nationalist MPs did. But he had a great advantage. He was a psychiatrist, not just any other Roderick Galdes or Clyde Puli. 

Many before him had welcomed Joe Gaffarena’s interest, namely his support for the Nationalist Party. There was George Hyzler, a former PN minister from Qormi and now president of the Chamber of Advocates. Gaffarena was an ardent supporter of his electoral campaign and everyone remembers this.

Then there was John Dalli, also a PN minister from Qormi, who even worked for Gaffarena. There were countless other candidates and MPs who hovered around Gaffarena or the other way round and did nothing to shoot down their close relationship.

Everyone, it seems, was welcoming Gaffarena with open arms. Even PN whip David Agius’s father was the lucky recipient of a piece of land in Rabat for bird trapping, where he would trap finches when trapping in Malta was banned by Lawrence Gonzi, until Joseph Muscat very irresponsibly reintroduced bird trapping.

Gaffarena was even doing business with the almighty Joe Saliba, the former secretary general of the PN – in the acquisition and sale of an apartment block in Paceville. And of course he was considered to be very receptive when it came to requests for donations to Net TV, thanks to the efforts of former Birkirkara mayor Michael Fenech Adami.

Joe Cassar is just one guy who happens to find it difficult to admit that he too tried his luck with Gaffarena.

I have no doubt that today Gaffarena has built solid bridges with Labour MPs. But two wrongs, you see, do not make a bloody right.

Cassar insists that he bought a car, a blue Peugeot licensed PEU-307, from Joe Gaffarena in 2012, because he felt sorry for the man who, according to him, was in financial ruin. He said that Gaffarena, in financially dire straits, actually refused to take money and told him to donate the sum to the PN.

That is, of course, very difficult to believe. Is Joe Cassar telling the truth?

The truth is that not only did Cassar embrace the arrival of a car in April 2012, but he wants us to believe that nearly a year later in February 2013 he converted that very kind contribution into a €1,000 donation to the party.

This second-hand Peugeot 307 XS HDI 2.0 sold to Dr Cassar’s wife is now estimated to cost today around €5,000 to €7,000 – a far cry from the miserly donation of €1,000 made to the party a year later. Interestingly, the car was sold by Cassar to an auto dealer in June 2015 as soon as the Old Mint Street expropriation scandal surfaced. Questions put to Cassar about how much he insured the car for, were returned with a non-answer.

Whether he sought Gaffarena or the other way round is unclear. What is clear is that today this newspaper is producing a receipt from the developers and contractors who took care of the works at Cassar’s farmhouse in Dingli. The works, which are specified, were paid for by the financially straitened Joe Gaffarena, and in return the company Devlands Ltd was supplied with fuel from the notorious Gaffarena petrol station in Qormi.

This is of course damning information.

Devlands is, by the way, one of the companies that provided concrete for Mater Dei Hospital while being strangely responsible for a sizeable part of the works at the Cassar farmhouse.

The receipt for the works paid for by Joe Gaffarena in a fuel barter is for over €8,000.

In this period, Gaffarena also paid (some €800) for a CCTV system for Dr Cassar. I guess Cassar was tortured to make him accept this act of charity from a man he describes as a financial mess.

So for him to take on the mantle of a victim claiming a frame-up here is a bit hard to swallow. What we have here is not only deception, but downright fibbing.

Joe Cassar has not only humiliated himself, but also seriously embarrassed Simon Busuttil as Opposition leader, who first described our story on Wednesday as a case of pure distraction. I take that comment in my stride. When we carry a story about Labour, Busuttil uses different words for the reports. 

When Simon Busuttil declared that Emmanuel Mallia ought to resign over the Sheehan incident, we reasoned he was saying the right thing. And we were the first ones to say so. The same applies for parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon, on whose watch individuals from his secretariat were shown by MaltaToday to have accompanied Gaffarena’s son Marco to the Lands Department, where he was given a controversial €1.65 million expropriation deal.

In these circumstances, even Joe Cassar has only one thing left to do. It is an honourable thing. He has to resign and disappear from parliamentary life.  

He lied and more importantly than all this he dived plumb into the path of Busuttil’s bold chariot charge on good governance.

Joe Cassar was a Cabinet minister when all this took place, and he failed to notify his political peers and he took advantage of his professional and political position to accept help for his family.

He was insensitive, irresponsible, stupid and careless. And he reminds us of that very old adage about people in glasshouses… and that’s what the caflangu did.

Joe, do the right thing and go. Resign now.