Shouldn’t the ‘facts’ have come before the ‘judgment’?

As I write, a crowd of activists is gathering outside the European Parliament office in Valletta; looking for answers

This is one of those awkward articles that is being written at a time before the press conference of the European Parliament’s fact-finding mission to Malta [Friday] afternoon. I’m expecting the announcement to be made at any point in the next couple of hours. But at the time of writing, I have no idea what facts – if any – could be revealed at the press conference.

There are, however, certain things that can be discussed even at this early stage. One of them is the enormous sense of expectation this EP mission has raised. As I write, a crowd of activists is gathering outside the European Parliament office in Valletta: and I imagine they’re not there for a spot of early Christmas shopping, or to enjoy the grey skies and light November drizzle.

I imagine that, like me, they are expecting some clear answers from the MEPs who have raised so many questions about the rule of law in Malta, following Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder last October. They are expecting corroboration of the many allegations repeated about this country on the international stage: specifically, that Daphne was murdered as a direct result of the sleaze and corruption currently engulfing the Maltese government (to the extent that at least two members of this delegation had already demanded the government’s resignation, two weeks before actually getting here).

Just as a small reminder of the task this delegation set itself last November: this is what one of its members – Romanian MEP Macovei – said during the debate: “Daphne was WikiLeaks in female form and she died because she exposed corruption in Malta, such as money which had been sent from Azerbaijan [a reference to the Egrant allegations]... I think the Prime Minister and his entire government should resign after this.”

So naturally, from Macovei in particular, I expect a whole assortment of facts to support those inferences. That would include:

Facts to confirm that dirty money originating in Azerbaijan was indeed laundered through a company [Egrant]; which was indeed owned by the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat; that over a million euros were deposited into Egrant’s account in a single transaction by a member of Azerbaijan’s ruling family; and most important of all, that Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on the basis of, or in connection with, these allegations.

(Note: I imagine the FBI, Scotland Yard, and all the other bureaux and agencies working on this case would be somewhat interested in these facts, too).

I need hardly add that anything less than 100% corroboration of those allegations – of which Macovei herself was confident enough to repeat in the EP – would be gravely disappointing. Not just to me, of course. I expect it will also be a dashing blow to all those activists currently demanding ‘justice’ outside (of all places) the EP’s Valletta office.

And yes, I am perfectly aware that any expectation to that effect – from me or anyone else – is also patently unrealistic. To prove all that would be, de facto, to solve the entire murder case in just two days. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect that from the FBI, Scotland Yard or even Angela Lansbury.

But those, all the same, are the expectations raised by MEPs – consciously or unconsciously – when they so forcefully endorsed local suspicions on the podium at the European Parliament. And let’s face it: this afternoon’s press conference may even meet those lofty expectations. For all we know, those allegations may indeed be true. The fact that they have not so far been proven – while it doesn’t exactly help the case for the prosecution - doesn’t add up to proof of innocence, either.

And besides: it’s not as though nobody’s ever asked for evidence before today. With the exception of the link to Daphne’s murder – which obviously cannot predate the murder itself – all those claims have been in the public domain since last April. And that is also exactly how long some of us out here, myself included, have been demanding to see some form of proof to substantiate any of them.

Strangely, however, such demands for proof have consistently been rebuffed by many of the same people who now claim to want ‘justice’. ‘What need do we have of proof?’, came the concerted reply whenever the question was asked. What they may as well have been saying was: ‘Since when is proof needed, when an allegation can be used to weaken and delegitimise a political opponent?’ (And this, one might add, from people who now decry the total collapse of Malta’s rule of law...)

But it also explains why this EP fact-finding mission was all along so important. I don’t expect any better from the general public in this politically poisoned country of ours. The type of person who reasons like that will invariably have been dipped into the national cauldron of political hatred from birth... if not before he or she was even conceived. They are probably not even aware of the absurdity of their position; and it’s difficult to even blame them, because if the political myopia itself is an illusion... that cauldron they were dipped into is very real. So real, that you can feel its bubbling, searing heat in practically any online political discussion.

But the European Parliament? I don’t think it’s naive to expect MEPs to base their judgments on facts, instead of blanket presumptions of guilt. Actually I think that’s a pretty reasonable expectation in any circumstance... but even more so in a debate about the ‘rule of law’. There is, after all, an irony in all this. The same European Parliament that claims to be mortally shocked and disturbed by the standards of justice in this country, seems to see no contradiction in simply pole-vaulting to conclusions, and pronouncing a ‘guilty’ verdict before the case had even come to trial.

This brings me to another thing we can all safely talk before the results of fact-finding mission are made known. How is it that the European Parliament only decided to start looking for these facts yesterday (Thursday)... i.e., two weeks after it had already pronounced summary judgment, on the basis of the very allegations it now seeks to confirm?

Shouldn’t this mission have come to Malta before the EP resolution tabled on November 14... you know, the one that decided to first ‘tut-tut’ at an EU member state over its ‘failed’ justice system... and only then – after the resolution was duly passed by an overwhelming majority - to send a delegation to Malta to find out whether that justice system had indeed ‘failed’ or not?

I shudder to imagine what the rule of law would really be like in Malta, if our law-courts went about things the same way as the EP. You could end up convicted on criminal charges before a single witness even testified in your case... only for the judge to come and visit you in prison, and ask if you were guilty or innocent.

Is that the sort of justice the European Parliament expects from us? And if not... why is it the sort of justice it is meting out itself?

Oh, hang on: looks like I have to interrupt this transmission with an update. The press conference has meanwhile got under way, and... let’s see now... Ana Gomes, head of the delegation: ‘the perception of impunity is very wide here’... yes, yes, we already know that. It was even the headline I gave to an interview with Prof. Henry Frendo on the same subject a month ago.

“Serious revelations coming from the Panama papers and particularly involving two cabinet members have not yet led to prosecutions”. Err... you don’t say? There have been news reports to that effect in Malta ever since the Panama Papers scandal first broke in April 2016. Gomes could have reached the same conclusion just by running a quick Internet search from the comfort of her office in Brussels.

Anything else? “The police and the attorney general have demonstrated an unwillingness to investigate and failure to prosecute corruption and money laundering” – Sven Giegold, Green MEP. Funny he should point that out: it’s only been the case ever since Malta achieved Independence 70 years ago... and probably a heck of a lot more so before that. That’s why the ‘Permanent Commission Against Corruption’ (do these MEPs even know that exists, by the way?

They don’t seem to have met any of its members) has never actually concluded a single investigation into government corruption... and probably also why around the only time the police ever did press corruption charges against a local politician (Lorry Sant in the early 1990s)... the only outcome was a Presidential pardon for the accused.

Oh, and then there’s this: “there are systemic problems rooted in Malta’s Constitution” (Giegold). Really? Well, thank God we have the European Parliament to tell us these things... otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that the ‘Constitutional reform’ we’ve all been banging on about these past 10 years was just a figment of our collective imagination....

But hey, let’s not be hasty. Having accused the EP of rushing to judge before time, I can’t exactly be guilty of the same offence myself, can I? Maybe that was just a small foretaste of revelations yet to come. Maybe they’re just waiting for the right moment to unveil all the facts they must surely have found on their fact-finding mission. Maybe they’ll tell us tomorrow...

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