‘Tutto il mondo è paese’

It has always been the practice with politicians to shoot the messenger and forget about the message. And perhaps it has always been difficult for me and other journalists to live with this state of affairs.

PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami
PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami

It is hard not to overreact to this week’s weak thinking by the leader of the Opposition, shockingly describing MaltaToday’s story on Beppe Fenech Adami as a matter of ‘deviation’, or some fabrication orchestrated from Castille.

I am of course enthralled by the fact that over the last three years, Simon Busuttil has not expressed the same line of thinking when MaltaToday published stories which politically embarrassed and hurt the Labour government.

Perhaps some reminding would be appropriate: when we published the Café Premier story, we had a very similar reaction from the Labour administration; before that, we published the lack of Security Service clearance for the promotions of top army brass, vehemently criticised by the Opposition; or when this newspaper took to task the government over the Individual Investor Programme, the citizenship sale that the PN has seemingly made peace with

When we revealed the secrecy surrounding the golden passport scheme, we were accused of being in cahoots with the Opposition, even though the party was then caught napping, while many of its senior officials were salivating at the prospects of making tons of money out of the citizenship scheme.

It has always been the practice with politicians to shoot the messenger and forget about the message. And perhaps it has always been difficult for me and other journalists to live with this state of affairs. A case in point were the Panama Papers and Swissleaks. Daphne Caruana Galizia had a foot in the ICIJ door on these major stories: she may have the most loathsome of pens, but this was serious stuff that could not be ignored.

I can never share her unpalatably, biased and polarised view of life and society. Indeed there were some overzealous elements in some stories, and censored elements in others (take the Maltese ambassador and well known businessman who had Swiss accounts but was never mentioned); other English-language newspapers had to make front-page retractions (front-page: the serious ‘save-your-ass-from-being-sued’ retraction) once, twice, three times because of incorrect interpretations of the facts. But still, Panama Papers remains a fundamentally important journalistic story.

So back to Beppe Fenech Adami: in a nutshell, the legal responsibilities of a director of a fiduciary company were clearly illustrated by Fenech Adami himself when he lashed out at the directors of the fiduciary company that surfaced when MaltaToday revealed the kickbacks linked to the sale of fuel to Enemalta in 2013. A director is always responsible, whether or not he is hands-on.

In 2013, Joe Cordina, a director of Intershore fiduciary, withdrew his candidature as a Labour contestant just two months from the election, after it turned out his client was the oil trader George Farrugia. Cordina was lambasted by Fenech Adami himself, who at the very same time that he was engaged in this censure, was being mentioned in a police investigator’s file as a politically exposed person who was the director of a fiduciary acting for a suspect commercial entity.

Irrespective of whether or not he knew that the police knew him to be a PEP in investigations dealing with suspected money laundering by CapitalOne Investment Group, Fenech Adami did know that he was a director of the name-lending fiduciary. And that is enough for everyone to come to their own conclusion.

I guess Fenech Adami is simply… thick-skinned. And that is being nice. Indeed, someone like Konrad Mizzi should resign, and we should also question the role of politicians in activities that are not transparent, such as offshore BVI accounts or fiduciaries. But failing to see anything wrong in ourselves being up to our neck in the proverbial shit? The hypocrisy is right in your face. No one, it seems, has an idea of what conflict of interest or ethical conflict is all about. 

Beppe Fenech Adami, on the other hand, has once again declared that he has done nothing wrong. The only problem is that he served as a director of a fiduciary company that clearly had responsibilities for the transactions (for €5 million euros) that were referred by Dutch clients who were investigated by Dutch police for their connections in a suspected drug trafficking route extending from Brazil to Rotterdam.

He says that he was not hands-on in the company, and did not know what was going on, and was not aware that there was an investigation by the police. Cordina said exactly that, too, when he was asked of his role as a director. But it did not prevent Fenech Adami from excoriating Cordina.

Neither was Fenech Adami aware that former assistant commissioner Michael Cassar jotted down in the file that the case should be brought up in three months’ time, nor that the information uncovered by the police in Malta was not passed on to the Dutch police, who sought Malta’s cooperation.

Well, Beppe Fenech Adami was not just a parliamentary assistant responsible for the police at the time. He was also a vetting officer at Bank of Valletta (probably still is), that is, a high legal official at BOV. He also had private interests with big business, which of course are irrelevant to the case.

As my mother would always say, you cannot have your cake and eat it…

So Simon Busuttil can, if he wants, wrongly or rightly, accuse us of being in cahoots with Castille. But I have no problem stating hand on heart that the story authored by Matthew Vella and Mark Hollingsworth was in no shape or form, linked to anywhere like Castille. In psychology there is a thing known as projection. Perhaps Simon Busuttil was referring to stories that were passed to another newspaper, such as The Times, by some party. To Simon Busuttil, journalism is only done for a political party: when the Sheehan police recordings were published by the PN media, he lauded the ‘free independent media’, because that discourse suited him well at the time.

Whether Beppe Fenech Adami will suspend himself or not, is not up to me to say or demand. What I do know is that in another country where a story is seen for what it is, the politician would do the honourable thing. In normal democracies, no one questions the timing or the origins of a story. Period.

Should anyone ‘complain’ that Caruana Galizia let the cat out of the bag when Panamagate hit Malta well before the ICIJ release, so as to coincide precisely with Konrad Mizzi’s deputy leadership appointment, to scuttle his chance of retaining that post?

I guess that is OK – but nobody, certainly not this newspaper, has ever brought into question the timing or facts that other newspapers published. MaltaToday respects the trade, when truth is what is being published.

Today, MaltaToday carries another story, based on a decision by the Swedish Pensions Authority this week. The story underlines the alleged culpability of a Maltese-licensed pension fund, a director of which is Tonio Fenech, the former Nationalist finance minister.

Perhaps the next step in my career is to now request clearance from the political parties before publishing. In 30 years of journalism, I did not rush off to serve a political party as campaign manager, or lend my face to the government’s propaganda for Smart City like Noel Grima, the Independent’s acting editor, did.

The Swedish pensions debacle is in the public domain, so to assure anyone who wants to question timing, no, there was nobody from Castille meeting us in a car park in the middle of the night. Perhaps Tonio Fenech has already informed his own party officials?

I expect that now this newspaper should be again accused of ‘distracting’ public opinion. Maybe it should be Tonio Fenech to do the honourable thing and resign, pending the outcome of course… because unlike other stories, this is not a case of a smoking gun with wishful suggestions, but a clear statement by the Swedish pensions agency calling on the police to investigate and prosecute.

If Busuttil does not see it, it is no problem at all. Like I said last week, we are not here to change the world, but to inform our readers.


Time for Carmelo Abela to wake up

This week a Peregrine Falcon was shot and badly injured at Mqabba. The person who shot the bird is very probably one of the many people who profess that they never break the law and that they also want to uphold Malta’s right to do what they like to do: KILL.

I listened attentively to Mark Sultana, CEO of BirdLife Malta. He recounted that he was alerted by a concerned resident at Mqabba who discovered the injured bird in the street. This majestic creature, synonymous with our national identity and folklore, was one of many protected birds shot this September and October. It is a terrible occurrence, countering the gratification arising from the rare occasion that this very year, one of the fastest birds in the world returned to breed on Malta’s cliff face, the first time in years. 

Sultana expressed his shock when he was told by the veterinarian that the bird was badly injured and had to be put down. “I have seen many injured birds, but I cried when I was told that this great bird was to be put down.”

The only real solution in stopping this wildlife crime is for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to take the bold step in seeing that the law is enforced and that Carmelo Abela wakes up from his stupor and acts. For Joseph Muscat, this is definitely very low priority: he simply does not care.

A day after, the Salina saltpans were passed over to BirdLife Malta. It is imperative that Muscat keeps his word and sees that Maltese hunting laws are observed and enforced. Is it asking for too much?