French secret service in Malta - ‘We would not have allowed it,’ says Vella

Following the MaltaToday story on French secret agents operating from a Balzan house, former foreign minister George Vella spoke to MaltaToday and expressed indignation at what he called an "obscene" industry and Malta's involvement

Former foreign minister George Vella
Former foreign minister George Vella

Former foreign minister George Vella has expressed indignation at a report in MaltaToday that revealed a French secret agent cell could have been operating from a Balzan residence.

Vella, who was minister at the time of the Metroliner tragedy in 2016, said he was unaware that a nine-man operation tied to the French DGSE secret service had set up a ‘base’ in a Balzan house on Triq il-Kannizzata.

“If we knew about the operation, we wouldn’t have allowed it,” Vella said, conceding that the issue would have been beyond his remit. “My impression was that this Metroliner was following trails of terrorism in Libya,” he said.

But the nine men tied to the Malta cell were members of the DGSE, five of whom were killed in the crash on October 24 2016.

READ MORE: French spies inside an ordinary Maltese house

The case was shrouded in mystery, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declaring then that the deceased were French Customs employees carrying out surveillance on contraband and trafficking in Libya.

The French Customs denied this, while the French newspaper Le Monde confirmed that the deceased were all members of the DGSE, the French secret service.

But last week MaltaToday revealed that the men were tracking the movements of armaments in the hands of Libyan rebels, and that two black boxes went missing after French investigators came to Malta to review the incident, bringing the ongoing magisterial inquiry in Malta to a slowdown.

Still, last week, Muscat gave MaltaToday a casual response on the new revelations and reaffirmed his commitment to his 2016 statements – he claimed that “it’s obvious that when there’s a surveillance mission, there’d be overlapping with issues of security.”

Muscat refrained from commenting on the missing evidence and on the French investigators sequestering documents so crucial to the Maltese inquiry, an inquiry that has ostensibly stalled.

But George Vella’s reaction, unlike Muscat’s, exhibited indignation at what he called the “hypocrisy” of countries like France.

“If there are no weapons, there are no conflicts. The arms industry is one of the biggest in France. Most countries would tell Benghazi and Yemen that there is not enough money for medicine to pass through to these war-torn areas, but weapons always get through. This industry is an obscenity.”

Vella said that he was an admirer of former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook, who resigned in protest at the Iraq war and was one of the few people who had called for an ethical foreign policy on arms exports.

The trafficking researcher and journalist Mark Micallef, who has reported extensively on Libya both before and after the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, expressed surprise at the news. “It is surprising that Malta is at this level of involvement but not that surprising,” he said. “Sanctions are constantly breached for the sake of private and government interests.”

Micallef said the MaltaToday story went right at the heart of the problem in Libya. “Libya is severely unsettled at present with rival factions and militias seeking to control territory. A UN-backed government based in Tripoli has little power and rival militias constantly collude to overthrow the wobbly government fixture.”

Attempts to reach the present Maltese foreign affairs minister proved futile. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was likewise unreachable. Brigitte Curmi, French Ambassador to Malta, is yet to comment.

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