Franco Debono speaks out: Muscat’s slight, Pawlu Lia’s ‘cruelty’, and the Constitutional Convention

The former MP speaks candidly: Muscat’s cronies are attempting to make him out to be unfit for the role of Constitutional convention head so that Marie Louise Coleiro Preca can assume the role… and Muscat didn’t even have the courtesy to call him

Franco Debono (right) with Marie Louise Coleiro Preca on the Constitutional Convention that has been passed on to the outgoing President to lead after April
Franco Debono (right) with Marie Louise Coleiro Preca on the Constitutional Convention that has been passed on to the outgoing President to lead after April

Franco Debono, Law Commissioner and former Nationalist MP whose vote brought down Lawrence Gonzi’s government months before an election was due, stood in one of the corridors at the law courts this week, waiting for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

His hands wrapped tightly across, Debono’s clear air of umbrage was evident to lawyers passing by.

“He seemed to be waiting angrily for someone… and he could have been waiting for Muscat,” two lawyers who spoke to MaltaToday said. Muscat and his entourage entered the law courts, where the Prime Minister testified in a libel case he filed against Daphne Caruana Galizia on the Egrant allegations. But he was spared the confrontation.

Instead, Debono – who in 2017 toyed with a Labour candidature – made headlines with an inflammatory blogpost accusing Muscat of being “the most corrupt politician in Maltese history”, and that – circumstantially – he was clearly the owner of the secret Panamanian company Egrant.

The eruption brought out the internet’s usual trolls: Labour supporters posted Facebook statuses in which Debono himself dubbed Egrant “a lie”. So what had changed to bring the Gonzi-era Debono out guns blazing?

Yesterday, in full candour Debono delivered a storm of detail surrounding a cast of characters connected to Muscat, not least his faithful lawyer Pawlu Lia – who is prosecuting the Egrant libel suit, but also sits as the government’s representative on the judicial watchdog, the Commissioner for the Administration of Justice.

This same commission is hearing Debono’s appeal against a 2011 decision by the Committee of Advocates inside the Commission of Administration of Justice, that found him guilty of contempt with a €700 fine, over a telephonic altercation with a magistrate’s assistant (his request for a sitting’s deferment while he was ill had been turned down).

Since then, the appeal has proceeded at an unhurried pace. In 2017, Debono demanded the recusal of the Commission’s president, the President of the Republic Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. The reason: he was representing parties in a civil claim against the President in the Papaqli charity supercar incident. The request was refused.

But just two months ago, Debono also requested the recusal of lawyer Pawlu Lia, a man who yesterday he publicly accused as someone “cruel”.

“I remember some three years ago having advised Lia about his son, then working as a legal aid, over something that was not allowed… I won’t go into it, but after that time, his son was removed from the legal aid list,” Debono yesterday explained with meticulous detail.

“Now I’ve never met such a cruel person,” he said emphatically in a long telephone conversation. “Lia once told me his golden rule – that when he is aggrieved by someone, he makes sure to pay them back.”

“Joseph has given this role to Coleiro Preca… I’m seeing their behaviour inside the Commission for the Administration of Justice as a manoeuvre intended at making me out to be unfit for this role. I’m no cretin.”

Lia – Debono suggested – wants to pay him back too; while also doing Muscat’s bidding, specifically since Debono’s previous role as head of a Constitutional reform convention has been unceremoniously entrusted to the outgoing President of the Republic.

“My colleague Marion Camilleri had to recently testify in the appeal but was taken ill on the day she had to appear, and Lia alone demanded a sick note: written under oath! Truly the worst kind of cruelty that characterised Labour in the 1980s…”

But Debono went a step further yesterday, pointing at Muscat’s decision to have Coleiro Preca steer the convention on Constitutional reform which he had been entrusted with in 2013, before the Opposition boycotted the convention and ground it to a halt.

“Since I refused to contest the election with Labour in 2017, Muscat has changed,” Debono said.

“Joseph has given this role to Coleiro Preca. He didn’t even call me to tell me… I’m seeing their behaviour inside the Commission for the Administration of Justice as a manoeuvre intended at making me out to be unfit for this role. I’m no cretin,” Debono said, spelling out the grave slight.

Minutes after yesterday’s phone call with MaltaToday, Debono was publishing yet more claims about Pawlu Lia, whom he accuses of doing his utmost to find him culpable so that Muscat can remove Debono from the convention headship.

Old Aloysians: ‘Turnip-head’ and Kamikaze boy
Old Aloysians: ‘Turnip-head’ and Kamikaze boy

But Debono yesterday disavowed Muscat entirely, specifically by raising the spectre of the Egrant ownership, and even resurrecting the notorious ‘Form 2C’ – this time not the report card of his precocious brilliance – but a distinct memory of his former Aloysian classmate Muscat, whom he now insists has a ‘turnip’ for a brain.

“Form 2C is the key to everything,” Debono said. “1987-1988… the PN were truly on top, and Joseph Muscat knew it then. He has a secret admiration for what the PN did in those days. He is trying to do all the PN did only on a larger scale… but Labour also wants to get rid of certain people. This is the worst of the worst of Labour.”

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