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The show must go on

Photo: European Union

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Economy Minister Chris Cardona should be applauded for their performance in Parliament yesterday – for theatrical effect rather than substance. It was nothing more than a show, intended to mislead and deflect criticism on serious allegations.

The debate followed revelations this week that substantiated claims that Economy Minister Chris Cardona knew at least two of the men arrested in connection with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia almost a year ago.

The allegations are serious because a Minister mingling at events and bars with criminals accused of killing a journalist opens up a world of questions.

This is not about Cardona or any other minister, as well as a large part of Malta, not knowing the reputation of these men. As former Police Commissioner John Rizzo had said in the aftermath of Caruana Galizia’s assassination almost a year ago, “there are only a handful of bomb makers in the country and the police know who they are”.

In fact they knew exactly where to find them when the government was again making a show of arresting 10 people in connection with the assassination. The men had even been tipped off – they knew the police were coming to get them and they have barely said a word since.

Yet, they had the freedom to enjoy lavish lifestyles with luxury cars and pleasure boats while claiming social benefits off taxpayers’ backs. They partied in the company of people like the Economy Minister. His response in Parliament yesterday amounted to ‘it’s not my fault if bad people turn up’.

These are questions that deserve serious answers, not theatrics. But rather than answers, we got to watch the Economy Minister and the Prime Minister deflecting from the issue to sow doubt and confusion.

To complement the show in Parliament, the government fed the link between the late journalist’s husband and the unnamed individual at the centre of La Repubblica’s story. Yet, Caruana Galizia had identified him as Pierre Darmanin in a blog post on 31 October 2016.

The government pushed the angle through friendly news outlets that the late journalist’s husband had acted as Darmanin’s lawyer. What the friendly news outlets failed to check was who in the Labour Party had acted as Darmanin’s lawyer.

Government head of communications Kurt Farrugia on Twitter.

At the same time, the government played down links between Cardona and Vincent Muscat, another of the accused in relation to Caruana Galizia’s death. Cardona was Muscat’s lawyer in 2010 when Muscat was charged with being one of the main perpetrators in the HSBC hold-up. He already had a list of crimes he was associated with dating back 10 years.

It is just absurd that the government is pushing client-lawyer links to deflect criticism by casting doubts on the family of the victim, while saying those same client-lawyer links are ‘normal’ in Cardona’s case.

In the end, yesterday’s session in Parliament left people none the wiser. What they got instead was news dominated by a fabricated spat. It is why Muscat made the wild accusation that former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil forged the signature of the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat, on the declaration of trust for Panama company Egrant.

What signature? The resume posted by Caruana Galizia does not refer to it, and neither do the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry published since they always referred to just Mossack Fonseca’s Jaqueline Alexander as having signed them.

Read more: A fake signature and some perspective

It’s easy for the Prime Minister to use Egrant to deflect what’s being discussed when he knows he can’t be challenged. Meanwhile, we have no idea what’s happening with the other two magisterial inquiries on money-laundering and corruption involving his closest aide, his chief of staff.

What comes to mind is a phrase used by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a response to a question at a news briefing in 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups:

“We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones”. And what a mess that led to.

PN MP Simon Busuttil.

The failure to publish the full report of the magisterial inquiry on Egrant has led to this farce. Opposition Leader Adrian Delia had to file a constitutional case to be given a copy while the Prime Minister (the subject of the inquiry) and the Justice Minister were given a copy.

Attorney General Peter Grech argued that if he gave the Opposition Leader a copy he would be throwing it into the political arena. What is more of a political arena than Parliament?

The AG’s stand has created a situation in which the government could use an unpublished report as a baton on the Opposition’s head with wild accusations on fake signatures.

This situation denies the public access to the evidence and the facts as opposed to political conjecture. We have no way of holding the Prime Minister’s statements to account without access to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s compilation of evidence and testimonies.

It’s easy for Muscat to say, “Someone who believed a lie was a liar, and someone who backed a fraud was a fraudster” when he knows he cannot be challenged.

Well, Prime Minister: Someone who aids corruption is corrupt himself, and someone who defends crooks is a criminal.

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