Easier to attack the press, than to confront the facts

This is truly a classic game strategy: where two sides find themselves under some form of challenge, it is their ‘accuser’ – the press – that is turned into the common antagonist

The problematic aspect of Rosianne Cutajar’s case, at a glance, has more to do with her role as a politician, than with the transaction itself.

Remove politics from the equation, and it is perhaps understandable that a private citizen would exploit a friendship with a very wealthy businessman, as a way of achieving some form of profit. (Indeed, it would be naïve to assume that it doesn’t happen all the time).

Even so, however, the details would still remain problematic. This is a large amount of cash on which such fees would be taxable.

But politics cannot so easily be taken out of this equation. The fact remains that Rosianne Cutajar is also an MP, and now a junior Cabinet member; and – well after the revelation of Yorgen Fenech as owner of 17 Black – it appears that she took time to act as a broker for Fenech’s potential acquisition of an Mdina house, with intention to claim a finder’s fee.

Apart from her additional public responsibilities – among others, to make a full public declaration of assets and interests – the buyer, in this case, was Yorgen Fenech: who (on top of the 17 Black issue) was still an Electrogas shareholder at the time, as well as an undisclosed business partner of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

That Cutajar was herself, at one point, a member of the political staff inside the OPM (where she served parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri), raises other questions, too. It points towards the intimacy Fenech enjoyed with certain OPM insiders: all of which forges connections with separate ongoing inquiries.

Today, we know that her close friend Charles Farrugia – who in 2019 was not yet her aide (Cutajar became junior minister in 2020; before that Farrugia had been a local councillor serving with Cutajar as Qormi mayor ), would have collected close to €100,000 in finders’ fees at the signing of the promise-of-sale. But, with the sale having fallen through, it is only now that the vendor’s lawyer, Pierre Lofaro, is calling for the money to be reimbursed.

Cutajar’s official response has so far been to claim this is not a matter that concerns her. But this doesn’t tell us what she was doing at a viewing of the house with Fenech in the first place. Nor does her deflection deny that there is documentary evidence showing efforts to have her claim such a finder’s fee.

Assuming, on the other hand, that her denial – vague though it appeared – was genuine: her actions would still add up to, at most, a grave error of judgement on her part; perhaps an unfortunate one, given her otherwise important role as parliamentary secretary for reforms and equality, in which she has championed crucial Bills for Maltese society’s advancement.

Nonetheless, it still warrants at least a resignation offer: even if only for Rosianne Cutajar to clear her own name. So Prime Minister Robert Abela cannot look askance: though he clearly hopes the Standards Commissioner’s own inquiry gives him more time… or even a way out.

But this also contradicts some of his earlier decisions. After all, Abela had accepted Gozo minister Justyne Caruana’s resignation, when it turned out her husband, a deputy police commissioner at the time, had holidayed with Yorgen Fenech himself.

Ironically, however, Abela found it convenient to ‘defend’ the public inquiry into the Caruana Galizia assassination, only one week after asking the inquiry to “consider the consequences” of its stubborn intention to continue beyond its government-imposed deadline.

Since the Mdina property vendor was represented in the sale (and juridically) by Pierre Lofaro, husband to inquiry judge Abigail Lofaro, the Prime Minister also found it convenient not to further antagonise the inquiry board: while at the same seeking to defend Rosianne Cutajar’s continued presence in Cabinet.

This is truly a classic game strategy: where two sides find themselves under some form of challenge, it is their ‘accuser’ – the press – that is turned into the common antagonist.

Again, this story is a reminder of the way the political class and all that flows from it – its detractors and supporters – treats the press in Malta. Whether one side is actively supporting or accusing the government, it attacks the press for either exposing the actions of the minister; or for highlighting the business relations of one of the inquiry judge’s spouses, as an attempt to undermine the public inquiry.

Now that the Prime Minister seems keen to defend the inquiry, given the implications it has for his own minister, it seems the two sides are bedfellows in a strategic game of how to set the dominant narrative.

But a free press should care about the facts only. And in this case, more facts are yet to come to light.