Adrian Delia must consider his political options

If the issue were only about Adrian Delia, one might understand his defiance. But at stake is also the existence of the Nationalist Party, already battered by infighting and now dragged down by its own leader’s problems

Allegations that Opposition leader Adrian Delia may have aided and abetted money laundering from a prostitution racket in London are not frivolous, even if the event occurred 14 years ago or more.

Media reports on Sunday claimed that a Jersey bank account held in the Delia’s name received £349,000 – close to half a million Euro – in the form of cheque and cash deposits over the period during which it was open.

The story dates back to the early 2000s, when it has since been alleged that Delia was involved, directly or indirectly, in the laundering of proceeds from a Soho prostitution racket.

The allegations were first made by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in August 2017, right in the middle of the PN leadership race which Delia went on to win. Caruana Galizia had claimed that Delia’s account received £20,000 every month in rent for the Soho house located at 52 Greek Street, which was used as a brothel during this period (a fact separately confirmed by a UK court ruling).

Caruana Galizia had claimed that the Healey Properties and AAS Freight Services belonged to Eucharist Bajada, the brother of Emanuel Bajada, who, along with his wife Eve, was believed to have been tasked with collecting rent for the apartments.

Delia has denied any impropriety or illegal behaviour, insisting he was simply acting as a legal advisor to third parties. But he has separately confirmed ownership of the Jersey account, on behalf of a client, and that money had been deposited into it.

If it transpires that the money does originate from a prostitution racket, Delia may find himself in very hot water indeed. And while it is by no means clear, as yet, whether the allegations are true – Delia seems to be hinting that they may, in part, be a frame-up - much of what has been said does appear to backed by documentation, court records and – more recently - details of bank transactions emerging from a leaked FIAU report.

That money was transacted through an offshore bank account held in Delia’s name is therefore a fact, not an allegation. The Opposition leader may have been oblivious, at best, of the provenance of this money – and it also bears mentioning that he was not involved in politics at the time.

But this does not lessen the seriousness of the matter, which was compounded over the weekend with details released by The Sunday Times of Malta.

Adrian Delia’s pre-emptive move to call a press conference last Saturday tried to set the agenda ahead of the revelations that came out a few hours later. It was intelligent of Delia to try and control the narrative by taking his own allegation – i..e., that his signature was forged on certain documents - to a magistrate. But Delia has not indicated what these documents are, or what they reveal. Indeed, it is not even clear whether they have anything to do with the money laundering allegations.

It is also questionable that Delia did not request an investigation in 2017, when the claims were originally made. Delia limited his actions only to suing Caruana Galizia for libel. He went on to drop those lawsuits immediately after her murder.

Even now, the magisterial inquiry is not into the totality of the allegations, but only to determine whether Delia’s signature on these documents is forged; and if so, who did it. Delia should have taken a bolder step and asked for a magisterial inquiry into all the allegations that have been made in his regard.

Picking on a detail, no matter how important it may be, will not cast aside the very serious accusations that Delia may have been party to a money laundering exercise as a lawyer. It is these accusations, linking him to a prostitution network in London and opaque companies with offshore accounts, that Delia must cast aside. The duty magistrate does not appear to have any such remit.

But legalities aside, Delia must also seriously consider his political options. From the outset he was supposed to be new, fresh breeze in a stultified party. Instead he has become a damaged brand. Less than two years into his leadership, he is still fighting his demons from the past.

If the issue were only about him, one might understand his defiance. But this is not just about Adrian Delia. At stake is also the existence of the Nationalist Party. Already battered by infighting and a lack of policy direction, the PN is being further dragged down by its own leader’s problems.

Moreover, the situation also undermines Adrian Delia’s image as the leader of a party that stands for good governance and clean politics. The Nationalist Party has an important responsibility, to keep the excesses of the Labour government in check. It also owes it to democracy to ensure that the country has a healthy Opposition and a serious alternative government.

All that remains to be seen how much further the party will allow it itself to be dragged off course, before realising that the this situation does not bode well only for the PN; but more importantly, for democracy in Malta as a whole.