Joseph Muscat relishes EU’s gas deal with autocratic Azerbaijan

Labour luminaries who had to defend a €200 million gas deal linked to corrupt offshore payments, toast an EU deal for gas with autocratic Azerbaijan

Former PM Joseph Muscat meets Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in 2014. The meeting happened without the Maltese government inviting the press to report the event.
Former PM Joseph Muscat meets Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in 2014. The meeting happened without the Maltese government inviting the press to report the event.

Labour luminaries and former PM Joseph Muscat broke into wide grins at news that the EU had signed a gas deal with the Azeri autocracy of Ilham Ilayev, as the bloc searches for new partners to replace Russian fossil fuels in a climate of rising energy prices.

Since 2014, Malta has sourced gas through Azerbaijan’s trading arm in Geneva, SOCAR, a deal tainted by corruption accusations linked to Muscat’s closest allies in government at the time the Panama Papers broke.

But news of Ursula von der Leyen’s deal with Aliyev to double gas production for Europe was relished by Labour proponents, who treated the news as a confirmation of Muscat’s gas strategy – despite the links to a corrupt offshore payment scandal.

It was only a matter of time until former prime minister Joseph Muscat, architect of the privatisation deal for the Electrogas plant partly owned by Azerbaijan’s SOCAR, issued his own message on Facebook, clearly enjoying the moment.

“We were hauled over the coals for our cooperation with Azerbaijan, years before other countries did... I remember Joe Debono Grech first telling me that countries would be queuing up to this state. He said ‘Mintoff opened up to China and he was taken to task, but they all fell in line after him. You do the same, and that is what will happen.’”

Unbeknownst to the public, after the 2014 Electrogas deal, Muscat’s energy minister and chief of staff had been planning offshore companies in Panama linked to a mysterious offshore company, 17 Black, owned by Electrogas owner Yorgen Fenech, the Tumas magnate. The Dubai company was used to channel payments from other Azeri sources believed to be connected to SOCAR officials. Fenech stands charged with mastermininding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who revealed the existence of 17 Black in February 2017.

Muscat today defended his policy on gas, which opened the doors to SOCAR Trading, Azerbaijan’s state gas company. “It was part of a plan to reduce energy bills that had impoverished the vulnerable, ruined a middle class and stagnated business. We kept these prices stable, as well as fuel prices, for years without the need of any subsidies.”

In a reference to the Egrant affair, the investigation launched after Caruana Galizia alleged that Muscat’s wife had received a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs, Muscat said: “One wonders whether they will call Von der Leyen corrupt or that she falsified some signature for her husband to take cash from the Azeris.”

Other Labour voices joined the fray earlier on, however without making mention of Joseph Muscat and instead praising his successor, Robert Abela, for guaranteeing price stability.

Labour deputy leader for party affairs Daniel Micallef called out the “false morality” of what he said were “oracle” silenced by Europe’s embrace of the autocratic regime of Azerbaijan.

Micallef argued that the sanctions against Russia were not working, forcing the EU to search for gas sources elsewhere as the rising prices of energy threatened stability in EU countries.

“You have to observe the lack of the word ‘peace’ in the narrative of European politics. Indeed, it’s almost a race for who gets to talk into appearing as the biggest bully – there were many speeches from leading exponents who are totally detached from people’s realities, then they are surprised with Brexit and other developments,” Micallef said.

Micallef too pointed out the cynical reality of “false morality being sidelined for convenience” suggesting that Malta’s unhappy association with SOCAR had now become acceptable to Europe.

“It’s not all roses... rising prices are felt by everyone, and having the lowest inflation rate in Europe is no coincidence, but neither is it the consolation we should rely on,” Micallef said, launching into praise for Robert Abela.

Chris Bonnett, parliamentary secretary for EU funds, used the development to pile into what he called “pseudo-cavaliers of rule of law” allied with the Nationalist Party.

“We’re the only country where the Opposition and ‘civil society’, elements of whom feasted at the trough to their hearts’ content, trash Malta openly in European fora, purely because the people have not elected them to government.”