Full closure. From Panama onwards

Cleary, in the most silent of ways, other people must have profited along with Fenech. The question is, who?

The latest revelations concerning 17 Black – the offshore company owned by Yorgen Fenech, accused of masterminding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 – confirm the urgent need for official closure on various investigations concerning private investments carried out in total secrecy by the Labour government.

In no uncertain order, these include the Enemalta power station deal, the Vitals hospital concession, and the 17 Black connection between the Panama companies opened by OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi.

This week, a joint Times-Reuters investigation revealed that in December 2015, 17 Black made a previously undisclosed profit of €4.6 million when Enemalta bought a wind farm in Montenegro.

The purchase came after negotiations and several trips to Montenegro led by Konrad Mizzi, who in 2016 and again in 2018, would be revealed as the owner of offshore holdings which had identified 17 Black as a ‘target client’.

No evidence was uncovered regarding any direct payments from 17 Black to the companies owned by Mizzi or Schembri: but that could also be due to the fact that efforts to open bank accounts were abruptly halted, when Daphne Caruana Galizia began publicly blogging about the affair.

Regardless of how this new information sits with the murder investigation, however, it attests to the murky relationship that the former Labour administration had with Yorgen Fenech; as well as to an underlying intertwinement between public and private business.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to misuse of public funds. While Joseph Muscat heralded the Montenegro deal as an investment “to foster relations with the government of Montenegro at Presidential and Prime Ministerial level”, the reality that now emerges is that Malta’s state energy company was clearly subverted into a vehicle for the enrichment of private interests… which amounts to a crime in itself, over and above any connection with Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Similar accusations have also been levelled over the Vitals hospital deal – which resulted in the sale of three State hospitals, at bargain prices, to private companies which failed to deliver on their contractual obligations – and also to the partial privatisation of Enemalta itself.

But the 17 Black revelations also underscore another systemic problem within Malta’s institutional set-up. Once again, it fell to the media to investigate matters which are clearly within the remit of other institutions: such as the police, or public inquiries.

In some of the above cases, magisterial inquiries are indeed under way: but this raises separate questions about why some inquiries – for instance, the one into the alleged murder of migrants at sea by the AFM – are concluded within weeks; while others are still ongoing more than two years later.

It is also debatable whether such magisterial inquiries are even capable of fully probing the issues at hand. Often, they are hampered by restrictive terms of reference: one example being the Egrant inquiry, which was limited only to determining whether the company was owned (as alleged) by Michelle Muscat… as opposed to an inquiry to determine who the real owner was.

In view of the latest revelations, a separate inquiry into the Egrant affair is now clearly warranted. On another level, however, there is a political dimension to these scandals, which cannot really be addressed by the instruments of justice alone.

Apart from facing official investigations, it is clear that the people at the heart of these stories also have to respond to their actions in public inquiries designed to fulfil our democracy’s important role in holding public officials to account for their actions in government.

As this newspaper has already stated, the murderous collusion of power, profit and police has resulted not just in the assassination of a journalist; but also in the potential derailment of the investigation itself. The 17 Black story - and its connection to the Panama companies, and now also to an Enemalta investment – shows to which degree the decisions by Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi were tied to personal profit, the common denominator (in these cases) being Yorgen Fenech.

Cleary, in the most silent of ways, other people must have profited along with Fenech. The question is, who?

This is why, under the new tenure of Angelo Gafà, the Maltese police force and the Maltese home affairs ministry have to be transparent, and communicate to the public what investigations taking place into this wholesale theft of the country’s money.

There is more at stake here than closure in the Daphne Caruana murder case; there is also closure on an ugly chapter of our recent past.

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