The Faustian Pact that brought down the edifice

Muscat must leave Labour now, Keith Schembri must be investigated now

Keith Schembri
Keith Schembri

Joseph Muscat’s era has ended. He campaigned in poetry in 2013 and governed in prose all throughout his redoubtable career, but his exit has been the hardest fall from grace ever in political history. The air is heavy with betrayal, incredulity, the stench of a corrupt cabal that held the Office of the Prime Minister in a stranglehold borne out of a convenient marriage of business and politics. That pact has been etched in blood, the murder of a human being.

The ruthless Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, now suspected to have been the, or one of the masterminds in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, has brought down the Muscat edifice. Nothing could be more emblematic of Labour’s Faustian pact than the nefarious intimacy of Muscat’s chief ally Keith Schembri, and his ‘business partner’ Yorgen Fenech – a shareholder in the Electrogas consortium that finally delivered Labour’s promise on energy rates. Therein lay the 17 Black mystery.

Now Muscat must step down, resign his parliamentary seat, and leave Labour – it is the one thing he must do to allow his successor the liberty to clean the Augean stables.

The end of Muscat. Carton by Mikiel Galea
The end of Muscat. Carton by Mikiel Galea

Muscat’s position was made untenable the second his ally’s friend was implicated in the Caruana Galizia investigation. But there is more: Schembri had been present at the Malta Security Service meetings with Muscat in which Yorgen Fenech was discussed as a main suspect, at least since 2018.

This serious revelation now demands to be fully investigated: Schembri must be probed for obstruction of justice and breach of national security. Investigate Schembri now, and make him face justice.

Perhaps the instruction from the MSS was to keep matters as normal as possible. But Muscat and Schembri were not victims of this circumstance. At that point it rendered Keith Schembri’s position untenable upon learning that his own business partner was a suspect in the murder of his boss’s main critic.

For by then it was the culmination of Muscat’s biggest ever misjudgement – retaining Schembri when he was revealed to have opened offshore companies in Panama in 2016.

Within a year, with the snap election that was announced in 2017, it was further revealed that a connection existed between the Dubai company 17 Black and the Panama companies – a mystery only finally confirmed in 2018, a year after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, linking the Panama companies to Yorgen Fenech, the Electrogas shareholder.

But in these three years, the Labour government held out in defence of its minister and the chief-of-staff, with formal investigations into the Panama Papers never initiated.

Muscat preferred to ride the wave of his popular support instead of facing the moral question staring at his administration: the use of offshore companies opened by his closest allies, an action that had a strong whiff of corruption and bribery.

Instead of probing his two men, Muscat defended them with legalistic ripostes, breeding – at the very least – a sense of unfairness and indecency that is felt by the common man in the street.

Labour may have an electoral mandate to govern till 2022. But the point of no return was crossed once Joseph Muscat’s moral authority was compromised by Schembri’s bedfellow. Whatever trail of blood exists, it is only inches away from Castille. Now Malta finds itself facing its greatest political earthquake because Muscat refused to sack the men whose treacherous offshore ruse has come to this extremity.

Murder – political murder – could be hanging on the Muscat administration.

Muscat’s administration has been shorn of the moral force that a prime minister needs to keep on governing. Even Cabinet ministers and Labour Party top brass and other former loyalists know this. Ministers who spoke to MaltaToday say they were shocked at the extent of information given to them by the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police on Yorgen Fenech, and some even started to question the Prime Minister himself in the course of reaching the decision not to give Fenech a pardon.

With Muscat’s edifice, even Malta’s consensual two-party system faces its ‘Tangentopoli’ moment. For long it has been a system whose checks and balances have been smoothed out for the benefit of the big parties which control so many aspects of public life in Malta: the regulators with political appointees guiding policy; the ineffective party financing laws; the control of the media by political parties; and a host of practices in government that do not check the overweening power of the state or restrict the influence of business on MPs and parties.

Will the national protest movement emerging from the wound of the investigation’s breakthrough provoke the challenge and change we need for Maltese politics? One hopes so, and this newspaper pays tribute to this budding movement of justified anger and the non-partisan citizens who are making their voice heard, loud and clear.

Perhaps more unfortunately, it is the gaping wound that has been opened that should now concern us, and which future prime minister will take the poisoned chalice to restore national trust, to clean the swamp, and to save the vestiges of Labour’s social-democratic roots.