Saying it as it is: Muscat had to put Schembri under investigation

The chief-of-staff Keith Schembri deceived his political colleagues and so many others when he was fully aware of what was going on

Keith Schembri and the man now known to have been Yorgen Fenech’s henchman, Melvin Theuma
Keith Schembri and the man now known to have been Yorgen Fenech’s henchman, Melvin Theuma

There is nothing that beats the embrace of your loved ones, especially at a time when you are shell-shocked, where you have to accept a reality that in no way would you have imagined possible.

I have to write about the elderly woman who came up to me yesterday when I was visiting hospital. She was dragging the drip-stand in the hospital corridor, turned round to me with tears in her eyes: “Is it true what I am hearing? How can this be true?”

“Yes, it is.” She looked on in disbelief. The shock of what has happened is a greater disappointment to all those who believed in Joseph Muscat’s new way of doing politics. I did not agree with all of Muscat’s policies but I was willing to give his party a chance after 25 years of Nationalist government. I wanted this country to have an alternative government.

I have little affinity with the people who protest in the streets today, apart perhaps from the smaller gathering of left-wingers who gathered yesterday morning.

Yet today I believe that in spite of all any hang-ups and prejudices towards others, the national movement that has gone out to protest must be recognised for having put pressure when it really mattered.

What has happened is now beyond belief.

The chief-of-staff Keith Schembri deceived his political colleagues and so many others when he was fully aware of what was going on.

Far worse than what I have just said, is that he used his powerful position to influence the powers that be and divert attention from the real culprit or culprits.

And there can be only one reason for this collusion: that he knew, or was at the centre of this heinous crime.

I knew Keith Schembri, as I knew all the prime ministers’ personal assistants over the last 35 years: John Camilleri, Richard Cachia Caruana, Joe Borg and Edgar Galea Curmi, and, with the exception of Joe Borg and John Camilleri... I have fallen out with all of them.

There is no denying that of all the personal assistants, Schembri was the most affable and charismatic.

But it was a great deception. Schembri fomented the theory

that fuel smugglers and their cronies were behind Caruana Galizia’s murder and this was taken up by the media, both local and foreign.

Even people in high places in government and the police were fed this line. This is why when talking to Reuters yesterday, I said that this now clearly smells of criminal intent.

I never knew the Malta Security Service had contact with the PM and Schembri on more than one occasion where they had been told that Yorgen Fenech was a prime suspect, when at the same time, Schembri was not only very close to Yorgen Fenech but even knew the middleman Melvin Theuma.

What we do know is that, at least after the revelation that Yorgen Fenech was the owner of 17 Black was made public, the Prime Minister should have faced the music and not only asked his chief-of-staff to leave at once, but also to be investigated.

He did not. And this raises more questions than answers. In February 2016 I was on vacation and I received a phone call from Konrad Mizzi. It’s no big deal that a bigwig calls up a newspaper owner: every person in a position of influence deals with top people in the media industry. A phone call is a phone call.

Anyway, he said he had something to announce. He told me that he would be sending a declaration. The declaration was his admission to having opened a trust in New Zealand. He did not mention his Panama account in his write-up. I told him I would send it to the editor and he would take it from there.

Matthew Vella called me back, alerting to me that the statement was a puff-piece intended at softening the blow for what was an undisclosed offshore set-up. He turned the piece around, putting the New Zealand trust as main news. We were unaware that this was the beginning of Panamagate, but it was paramount that a minister’s admission of being forced to admit to this undeclared trust had to be news.

It was the week Mizzi should have become deputy leader of the Labour party. The next day Daphne Caruana Galizia reacted to our story and published the details of their Panama account and all hell broke loose.

Now, many people may not believe this. But on my return, the next day, I was scheduled to have a meeting with the Prime Minister in my position as a trustee of Birdlife Malta. As the meeting ended I asked him if I could have a word.

“Do you know how serious this is – they should resign,” I told him. He looked on as he always did, patiently listening. “There will be a tsunami, and you will not be able to stop it.”

He replied that he would brave the storm and that he needed Keith and Konrad at that moment in time.

Since that time, I have lived a frenzied life, trying to understand why Joseph Muscat never quite took the plunge and asked them to go.

In April 2017 I was again on vacation. Now just in case one is wondering, I do not go on vacation very often. But my dates tend to coincide with some crisis. In fact this time round, I received a phone call from Keith Schembri. I was on a small ferry boat at the time and I told him

I could not talk to him at that moment.

Later in the night, he phoned me again, and I took the call. I was a little bit hesitant, because MaltaToday was running a front-page editorial calling for his resignation and that of Konrad.

He lets me know that the Prime Minister wanted to talk to me. I did... “Prime Minister, is it true what is being said about Egrant?”

“I deny it, it is not true and I will prove that it is not true.”

What happened after that is history... but that telephone log – not the contents – was traced and released by Caruana Galizia after I stated that I had had no telephone conversation with Schembri.

It was a mistake to deny it, thinking that no one would reveal the logs and fuel more speculation. I should have just faced the music and said what had been said. It was, after all, only a phone-call.

But back to the present day. There is no nice way of saying this: Muscat must resign and he must resign now. What is needed now, is a steady pair of hands that allow for a sense of normality to return.

I already think that the idea of Muscat resigning and staying on until 18 January is a grave mistake. It is crucial that the new prime minister should be inspiring, a visionary, clean, clear on their goals and willing to retain the economic pace – but not at all costs.

First and foremost the country needs to address the amazing deficit we have in accountability, openness in government, the need to reorganise the police and security services, but also the great environmental deficit, the need to reinforce political responsibility and ethics, and to put more focus in life-long education and work to diversify the new economy.

The new prime minister must also have the democratic support of the delegates of the Labour party and its membership.

Where this country goes from here is entirely up to us. I’ll stop now – every minute seems to be a great opportunity to reveal another tasty snippet.