So all this 17 Black and Keith Schembri saga is a game of courtroom ‘chicken’? Basically, yes

No 10. | Keith Schembri and 17 Black

What are we skinning? The most recent twist in the Keith Schembri 17 Black saga: the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff’s decision to withdraw a libel suit against former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to avoid being questioned about the offshore company 17 Black.  

Why are we skinning it? Schembri’s involvement with 17 Black was one of the most persistent pressure points for the Nationalist Party to seize on in their ongoing attempts to undermine the validity of the Labour Party’s economic success, and Schembri’s decision to withdraw his libel suit to avoid questioning is bound to raise already-primed eyebrows even further up.  

But isn’t 17 Black the subject of a magisterial inquiry anyway? Yes, and Schembri has made it very clear that he will be ready to answer all questions put to him during the inquiry itself. Still, and despite the inherent complexities of the case, appearing to ‘dodge’ questions on 17 Black is naturally not a good look in the current media landscape.

Beyond the legalistic facts though, why has the 17 Black saga captured the ‘public imagination’ in such a strong and persistent way? It has most clearly revealed the fault-lines of the Labour government’s partnership with the business community, and more specifically with the wunderkinds among its number, like Schembri himself.

You’re saying that a strong economy and shady deals go hand in hand? Not necessarily. But successful businessmen like Keith Schembri inevitably operate in a field whose checks and balances are different to those expected from politicians and their aides, so that the scenario reveals something of a ‘clash of working cultures’. Which arguably also led to the courtroom comedy of errors we’re witnessing right now…

How do you mean? Well, think about it. In a sense, both Simon Busuttil and Keith Schembri appear to be fighting for each other’s cases. Busuttil had wanted the libel proceedings against him to go through, while Schembri is more than happy for the magisterial inquiry – originally initiated by Busuttil – to go ahead.

So it’s a game of courtroom ‘chicken’? Basically, yes.
Do say: “Let’s await the results of the magisterial inquiry to unfold, while remembering that bad optics or not, Keith Schembri was perfectly within his rights to withdraw the libel suit.”

Don’t say: “Due process be damned! Keith Schembri is a crook/Simon Busuttil is a liar and we know it just by the look on their face/s!”