Macbeth, the Lady, and the witches

For years to come, Caruana Galizia’s Egrant affair and the connivance of the PN will be a textbook case of rotten journalism,
and politics

It is 2013. Simon Busuttil is elected leader of the PN. Already the seeds of divisive politics had been rooted by the Gonzi administration, with Lawrence Gonzi turning his party into the ‘I versus them’ vision of GonziPN. The party machinery was given free rein to quash internal criticism or rebellion. The articulate prose and poison pen blogging of the astute Daphne Caruana Galizia was weaponised to maximum effect.

To put it mildly, she ran roughshod over anyone in the way of the Nationalist party and its leadership and she did this with abusive language, and an indiscriminate carpet-bombing that attacked anybody guilty by association. As politics metamorphosed into a battlefield of mediatic put-downs, the PN leadership gave her their blessing. The PN’s supporters followed suit.

In 2013, a report for the Nationalist party – drafted by stalwarts like future secretary-general Rosette Thake, future PN executive president Ann Fenech, and standard bearers Mary Anne Lauri and Simon Mercieca – pointed out that Caruana Galizia’s commentary impacted on the PN’s performance. To be precise its honesty was disarming without expressly mentioning Caruana Galizia – referring to “sympathisers writing in their own blogs... whom the PN should have repeatedly disassociated itself from when such blogs dealt with comments of a personal nature”.

That advice was ignored. The adverse impact on voters who were disgusted with her style and personal diatribes had been noted. But astoundingly, the same people who penned their names to the report later would never seem to question the role that Caruana Galizia played in the formation of PN policy.

When I invited Simon Busuttil to a breakfast meeting with senior journalists and editors at MaltaToday, I was anxious to explain how over the previous eight years the newspaper had been sidelined by Gonzi. We also offered a platform for the new face of the PN – I recall offering “an open door” on several occasions, not just during the MaltaToday meeting but also at two lunches and another meeting at PN headquarters.

Still, I had warned Simon Busuttil at the very end of the first meeting: “You will make a fundamental mistake if you are going to be an extension of Caruana Galizia’s style and politics.” He assured me he was his own man and that things would change.

As we know we were all very wrong. Simon Busuttil did what Lawrence Gonzi had done before but with the callousness of someone in a big hurry. He thought that simply because Caruana Galizia was followed by a very faithful group of PN middle-class voters, Anglophones, and those with a deep hatred for anything remotely Labour, he had discovered his secret weapon. And he also surrounded himself with individuals who shared this belief and actively fostered it.

The Aaron Bugeja inquiry shows in the clearest of terms that there was one fundamental brain in this conspiracy that served to annihilate the Nationalist Party and rocket Muscat to incredible highs. Her name greets journalists at one of the European Parliament conference halls. And everyone knew that the Russian national Maria Efimova was not a reliable source. When she was accused of defrauding Pilatus bank, the bank asked lawyer Joe Giglio – a close friend of Simon Busuttil – to take up their case.

Caruana Galizia’s journalism often mixed fact with fiction, emotion with prejudice, speculation with reportage, dislike with malice. She served the PN’s purpose and so the definition of good journalism did not really matter. Throughout her career she was served with information and titbits. And it was not difficult to figure out who her informants were. In her coverage of John Dalli’s Bahamas misadventure, she clocked the arrival of police arresting and releasing one of the chief suspects. Soon after there were details of half-baked FIAU reports released slowly over the course of 2017. And finally there was Maria Efimova, the ‘whistleblower’ who had been investigated by Jonathan Ferris, who by then was working at the FIAU.

Caruana Galizia not only regurgitated material given to her without verifying facts, but on many occasions reproduced stories to suit one person against another, and this sometimes also included criminals. Most of the time she revealed explosive stuff that led to her notoriety as a fearless blogger, but it was the biased and cruel commentary that got her to places and made her such a useful weapon for the Nationalists.

Simon Busuttil embraced Caruana Galizia without any reservations. He was abetted by Pierre Portelli when he became director of content at the Malta Independent where Caruana Galizia published her articles. The two men worked hand in hand to give credence to the Egrant theory and at no point have they shown any remorse.

To be fair, Simon Busuttil, in the middle of the campaign, seemed to have second thoughts and stopped attacking Muscat with the Egrant allegation. He must have been told that Efimova and Caruana Galizia were unreliable and that it was a gamble that was not worth taking. Portelli did not relent on the Egrant conspiracy. He continued until the very end.

But Portelli is now attempting to give the impression that he did nothing wrong even if he milked the cow until the very end. He interviewed Efimova and used the Independent to fuel the conspiracy and give the Egrant canard an unimpeachable air.

Portelli now claims he did not publish the deeds because he was not sure that they were not fake. My answer to that is simple – bullshit.

He only saw the deeds on an iPad – allegedly – probably either Caruana Galizia’s or else Efimova’s, and only got them printed after Aaron Bugeja called him in to provide him with a copy of the deeds.

He did so after he saw my interview with him on Xtra two days before election day, where he boasted of having seen the documents. He provided Aaron Bugeja with a copy of the deeds only after the election result and forensic evidence showed them to be false and fake.

It was obvious that someone had falsified them – someone in the circle of this conspiracy. I have my own ideas who could have done such a thing, someone who knew how Mossack Fonseca was structured and more importantly who the people at the administrative heart of the Mossack Fonseca were. Someone with a devious mind who thought that the end justified the means. It had to be someone so self-conceited and hell-bent on kicking out Labour that such a ruse was worth the gamble.

The narrative of the conspiracy was finely tuned to fit in the Panama narrative. I cannot see how Simon Busuttil, Pierre Portelli and Daphne Caruana Galizia did not see through this. Did they see through all this or did they know about this? If they knew of the deception why didn’t they stop?

Whatever the answer, their legacy is sealed forever.

Simon Busuttil is not a failed politician. He is now historically linked to one of Malta’s most notorious conspiracies to bring down a government by lies and possibly by criminal intent.

Pierre Portelli may wish to give the impression that he was an innocent bystander but he is as guilty as hell. He is indeed a failed journalist, fit for spin or churning out those vanilla storylines in his soap productions.

If Adrian Delia wishes to get it right he should ask him to leave, now.

The Egrant inquiry conclusions also make a clear reference to the role of Jonathan Ferris. One thing is sure. The persistence of MPs like Jason Azzopardi and Karol Aquilina to make him out to be some knight in shining armour, is reaching all possible limits. Perhaps the gentlemen could give us a break and retreat, at least for the time being. Time has yet to pass its judgement on Ferris.

In the case of Efimova, I believe it is time people take her for what she always was. Possibly an unstable character, her grasp on reality further disjointed after the termination of her job and the charges filed against her, whereupon she started on a letter campaign to dozens of politicians and journalists. One person seems to have taken good note of the former Pilatus Bank employee – Caruana Galizia – and it seems, she used her to confirm this fairy tale from hell.

In April 2017, when I declared I did not believe the Egrant allegation, what ensued was a living nightmare.

The Caruana Galizia family and their entourage of sycophants waged a social media war that was unprecedented. MaltaToday was alone in refusing to be caught in the tsunami of lies and invective that followed the allegations, and stood its ground.

Until this day, certain people continue to argue that the allegations were true. They still believe the suitcase theory, argue that the kitchen had a hidden safe and accept the invention that Michelle Muscat received millions of dollars from the Aliyevs. I believed them all to be untrue and I was one of the few when I said it.

At the time Simon Busuttil not only wanted to believe this script, but he made it his mission to make everyone believe it. Like Macbeth he was driven to murder King Duncan and become king himself, abetted by Lady Macbeth and the witches which stirred the pot of lies and deceit.

But for years to come, Caruana Galizia’s Egrant affair and the connivance of the PN will be a textbook case of rotten journalism, and politics.

Nothing will change the legacy of Caruana Galizia. She was a malevolent journalist. For Portelli and Busuttil it is game over. It is not the ‘Mafia state’ chestnut that we have had to fear after all. It is justice
waged by the rule of law.

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