She called it plain. We all heard her

It would be unfortunate to have to conclude that the real motive behind all this highly damaging suspense is merely to inflict maximum political damage to an adversary

The line is not famous enough to become a catch-phrase for ‘we are now at a point of no return’
The line is not famous enough to become a catch-phrase for ‘we are now at a point of no return’

There is a moment in John Ford’s 1962 film ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ – which at this stage I think should be compulsory viewing for everybody – when John Wayne turns to Jimmy Stewart and says: ‘He called it plain.’ 

The line is not famous enough to become a catch-phrase for ‘we are now at a point of no return’. But in its context, that’s what it means.

The context is this: a small town is terrorised by a criminal gang led by Lee Marvin (the titular ‘Liberty Valance’, which also gives you a hint what happens to him in the film). Stewart plays a young idealistic lawyer who is trying to get Marvin arrested for a stagecoach robbery. Wayne (as usual) plays the tough, taciturn non-nonsense lone cowboy, who instinctively knows that the only way to secure justice in the Wild West is by ‘packing a gun’. 

I trust you can all already see the relevance just from that very sketchy plot outline.

Anyway: after several minor confrontations, matters finally come to a head. Marvin, Wayne and Stewart face off in the saloon. Marvin challenges Stewart to a classic ‘High Noon’ style shoot-out. Before Stewart has time to answer, Marvin turns to Wayne and says: ‘Stay out of it. He’s hidden behind your gun long enough.’ Wayne turns to Stewart and says...

Well, I’ve already quoted the line. ‘He called it plain’. The showdown has to take place.

OK, enough with the movie analogy. That is exactly what just happened today. Daphne Caruana Galizia has called it plain. For over a week now, she has been making serious allegations of criminal activity which, if true (and therein lies the rub), would land Joseph Muscat and his entourage in prison for around 18 years. Yesterday, she indirectly called for his arrest.

I will quote the relevant text in full:

“What did the Prime Minister say yesterday? That we are all equal before the law, or words to that effect: the usual fatuous, deceitful hypocrisy. No, we are not equal before the law. Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Brian Tonna and Joseph Muscat – the Castille Criminal Gang – are immune from prosecution.”

That’s calling it plain. She is stating, very clearly, that Joseph Muscat should go on trial for corruption. I happen to agree with her on this; in fact I’ve been calling for the matter to be placed in a judicial arena for days. But my reason for wanting this to go on trial is so that the truth of the allegations can be independently ascertained. I very much doubt Daphne’s motives are the same.

Now: I have variously been told in the past few days that this is not necessary: we already have all the evidence we need. Sorry, but no we don’t. These are not generic allegations of corruption – they are highly specific charges involving transfers of specific amounts of money into a company owned by the prime minister’s wife. Allegations don’t get much more specific than that, you know. The only details missing are what colour dress Michelle Muscat was wearing when she signed on the dotted line. 

Prima facie, I would say there certainly is enough reasonable suspicion to conclude that something is very rotten here. Even on the basis of circumstantial (as opposed to documentary) evidence, I think the Police Commissioner already has sufficient grounds to at least call the prime minister in for questioning. Then again I am not a lawyer so I can’t confirm that.

But have we reached the stage where we can safely say: everything that has been said is 100% accurate and true? John Wayne would probably answer: ‘The heck we have!’ And I’d agree. Call me old-fashioned, but no, we are not at that stage yet: a document has been alleged to exist, money transactions have been alleged to have happened... I want to see the evidence. Simple as that, really.

At this point, an irony swims into view. What is actually stopping the trial from going ahead, anyway? Let’s take a step back and consider how things might have developed under slightly different circumstances. Let’s imagine that last Friday, when Daphne published typed paragraphs from a document she claims to have in her possession... she published the actual document instead.

Wouldn’t that be the ‘smoking gun’ everyone’s been demanding to see? And doesn’t she claim to have this document? Why didn’t she produce it then? And what’s stopping her from producing it now?

By the time you read this she probably will have... a point must come when it emerges... but we also need to know why it hasn’t appeared yet (as of today, Tuesday 25 April 2017, 15:23pm).

Personally, I find the answers I got when I asked to be highly revealing. One person after another told me, in increasingly patronising terms, that I was missing the point: that the only purpose of this entire saga was to force Joseph Muscat to resign.

Once again I must apologise. Sorry, no. That is NOT the whole point of this at all. It is actually not even relevant.

Should Joseph Muscat resign? A political judgement is required to answer that question. Should Joseph Muscat be arrested? That cannot be decided on the basis of a political judgement. You need an arrest warrant for that... and an arrest warrant requires evidence.

Besides: Should anyone resign from any post, on the basis of an unsubstantiated allegation (however convincing) published on a blog? I can see the argument that his position might be politically untenable because of all the doubt and uncertainty... but let’s not forget that this doubt can very easily be cleared up for us, the moment Daphne reveals her information.

As to whether he should have resigned a year ago on the basis of the Panama Papers... with hindsight, probably yes. It would certainly have spared us all this hassle today. But I shall have to repeat a line I have used on Facebook a couple of times this week. The Panama Papers were called the Panama Papers because there were PAPERS. They were NOT called ‘The Panama Allegations’.

It would be unfortunate to have to conclude that the real motive behind all this highly damaging suspense is merely to inflict maximum political damage to an adversary. Quite frankly, that is not how a journalist would handle the issue. It is how a political campaign manager would handle it. And if I have to explain the difference between those two as well... then we really are up shit creek without a paddle.

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