Delaying resignation will increase confusion

Unless Joseph Muscat resigns – and resigns now – chaos will continue to reign unchecked

Tensions have been running high in the country, ever since last week’s arrest of Yorgen Fenech: the suspected mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, identified by middleman Melvin Theuma in exchange for a presidential pardon for his own part in the crime.

At a glance, this development confirms links between the 2017 murder and the suspicious activities of Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, who had previously set up offshore companies intended to receive payments from Yorgen Fenech’s own vehicle, 17 Black.

Already, this confirmation added up to clear political responsibility on the part of a prime minister who had consistently defended Mizzi and Schembri, ever since they were outed for the part in what was clearly a graft operation in April 2016.

Yet even this revelation would pale almost to insignificance compared with what was to follow. Yorgen Fenech at first indicated that Keith Schembri himself may also have played a key role in commissioning the murder; later, the prime minister’s own name would also crop up in the prime suspect’s interrogations with the police.

But while Schembri was initially called in for police questioning – a fact which led to his (and, separately, also Konrad Mizzi’s) resignation – at no point was Muscat ever considered as a ‘special interest person’ in this case.

Meanwhile, in a terse, one-line press release, the police announced that Schembri was no longer being considered a suspect in the case either.

And now, additional evidence has surfaced suggesting a clear link between Schembri and key witness Melvin Theuma: letters and even recordings now appear to exist, indicating that Schembri may even have hatched a plot to frame Economy Minister Chris Cardona for the murder.

Naturally all this would need to be confirmed or repudiated by means of a criminal investigation. But there has been no official inquiry into these allegations to date; nor has any satisfactory explanation been forthcoming as to why the police apparently accepted Keith Schembri’s version without further question.

All this lends weight to the protestors’ main charge: i.e., that the organs of the State have been captured by a clique entrenched in the corridors of power.

The result is an unprecedented and quite frankly dangerous situation, that threatens to spiral out of control with each passing minute. For it is no longer just the several thousand who now protest daily to be demanding the prime minister’s instant resignation; questions are now being raised even among Muscat’s own senior ministers.

Cabinet ministers who grilled Malta’s Commissioner of Police and the lead investigator in the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation were “furious” to learn that Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri was not given a thorough interrogation.

Multiple sources who spoke to MaltaToday about last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting said ministers, especially those who are lawyers, were enraged at learning that Schembri was not questioned about the contents of a letter he is believed to have passed on to suspect Yorgen Fenech, through the Tumas family doctor Adrian Vella.

Given that Schembri’s contacts with the police and even the Security Service were strong, one minister conclued that the former chief of staff “must have passed on information to Yorgen Fenech.”

Either way, it is now clear that people high up in government knew, at minimum, who was behind the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. Yet the appropriate action has not been taken; nor has any political responsibility been shouldered.

These are clear signs that there was an obstruction of justice in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case. And given his proximity to all the known suspects, it is impossible for prime minister not to have been aware what was going on.

At this point, the responsibility is no longer merely of a political nature. Joseph Muscat’s immediate resignation has become necessary, not just for justice to be done and the case to be solved… but also for a much-needed return to stability and normality.

Yet while Muscat initially indicated that he would be stepping down, he later announced that he will stay on until the new Labour leader is elected on January 12. More bizarrely still, he announced that he will be spending part of that time ‘reaching out’ to the general public: an initiative that has appropriately been likened to staging a nationwide ‘Farewell Tour’.

These are all signs that Muscat is refusing to take on board the seriousness of the implications of what is going on. It is admittedly unfortunate that such an otherwise promising career would have to be cut so abruptly short… but Muscat must realise that his continued tenure at the helm of the country will only jeopardise the judicial process further.

Above all, however, to delay the inevitable for 42 days until January 12 is not only unwise, but also detrimental to the country’s piece of mind.
Under the circumstances, the proper course of action to take would be to advise the President of his immediate resignation, so that a caretaker prime minister be appointed for the duration until the new Labour leader in sworn in.

Unless Joseph Muscat resigns – and resigns now – chaos will continue to reign unchecked.