A clarification is in order

As Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat has a responsibility to call on Cardona to either confirm his dissociation, or give a public, detailed account of his questionable rapports

Joseph Muscat and Chris Cardona (right)
Joseph Muscat and Chris Cardona (right)

The latest revelations by the Daphne Project may or may not shed further light on the true motives behinds Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder last October. But in and of themselves, they raise uncomfortable questions – whether or not connected to the murder case – about presumed links between a Cabinet minister and Malta’s criminal underworld. As such, explanations are certainly warranted.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted two new witnesses in the magisterial investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who claimed that minister Chris Cardona and murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio had met each other at a bachelor’s party on 29 June, 2017, at a Fawwara villa.

The revelations are part of a new report by The Daphne Project, and enlarge upon previous claims by a different eyewitness that Cardona had been seen speaking to Degiorgio at the Siggiewi bar Ferdinand’s before the murder of Caruana Galizia.

The newspaper also reported a telephone call made in the autumn of 2016, by one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s subjects related to a fishing vessel connected to fuel smuggling: the person would have called Caruana Galizia first to rectify a story about him, and later first called Cardona and after Alfred Degiorgio.

“This circumstantial evidence,” La Repubblica writes in its report, “... does not prove anything more than what it shows. But it is useful in demonstrating the way Cardona may be related to the world in which trafficking and the executors of Caruana Galizia’s murder come together. To the point that it renders him one of the crucial actors in this story.”

The conclusion itself may be somewhat speculative: Alfred Degiorgio was certainly no stranger to the world of politics, having been (in the not-so distant past) a political canvasser. And Chris Cardona is not the first or only member of parliament to cultivate questionable rapports with protagonists of the criminal underworld. One need only mention the name ‘Zeppi l-Hafi’, to confirm that this world has extended an unwholesome grip on Maltese politics for decades.

It would, therefore, be unwise to read too much into a presumed connection between Cardona’s apparent acquaintance with the accused, and possible involvement in the murder itself. La Repubblica in fact stops short of underlining this connection.

None of this, however, lessens the seriousness of the questions these revelations raise. Even if none of these claims ever amounts to any ‘proof’ of a connection between Cardona and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, as a minister of state Cardona has a duty to clear the air and be above any suspicion. He must clearly explain the nature of his relationship with Alfred Degiorgio, and any of the other men charged with this murder – and who are also suspected (maintaining, as ever, the presumption of innocence) of involvement in an international fuel smuggling racket.

This explanation is necessary also because Cardona had at first denied the existence of any such relationship; and now argues that he has ‘nothing to add’ to his previous statements. Clearly, however, there is more that can be added: if he did not know Degiorgio, how can three witnesses testify to have seen him in his company, on two separate social occasions… and above all, why did the person who called Degiorgio in connection with a Daphne article, also call Cardona beforehand?

Even if Chris Cardona is correct in his suspicion that these accounts are fabrications or exaggerations aimed at tarnishing his reputation for political reasons… he still has to respond to them. By choosing to ignore such allegations, he is merely deepening the cause of popular suspicion.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, too, has a responsibility in this regard. He should not continue to hide behind Cardona’s furtive statements, but should insist on a clear public clarification. Yet when questioned whether Cardona had given at least the Prime Minister an explanation about the allegations published by the Daphne Project yesterday, Joseph Muscat simply repeated the economy minister’s line that he had nothing to add to the statement released Monday evening.

And in parliament yesterday afternoon, Cardona himself once again brushed off the allegations, simply challenging all MPs if they could offer assurances that they never went anywhere where people of ‘questionable character’ were also present.

This is beside the point. Even if similar questions may indeed be asked of other MPs, it doesn’t absolve Cardona of the need to clarify his own contacts: especially when there may be a link to the murder of an investigative journalist.

Nor is it relevant for the Prime Minister to argue that the ongoing murder inquiry should first conclude, before any additional investigations are considered. Or to point out that the information had emerged from testimony given to the investigation – thus proving that an independent investigation was ongoing, despite reports to the contrary.

Both those statements miss the point: which is that Cardona’s apparent connection with Alfred Degiorgio is a cause for concern in its own right, and not just because of the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder.

As Prime Minister, Muscat has a responsibility to address such concerns. He should call on Cardona to either confirm his dissociation, or give a public, detailed account of his questionable rapports.