Prime Minister Joseph Muscat might be playing for time but he cannot avoid the inevitable; Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri must be sacked.
And time is not the only thing Muscat is playing with. Since the Times and Reuters revealed that power station director Yorgen Fenech is the owner of 17 Black – a company who Mizzi and Schembri’s accountants said would be pouring $150,000 a month into their secret Panama companies – Muscat has tried to downplay it as yet another allegation.
But its anything but an allegation. Firstly, Mizzi and Schembri have never denied owning secret companies in Panama. And neither has Fenech denied owning 17 Black. Reuters reported that bank records in Dubai identified Fenech as the owner of 17 Black, Reuters, while sources confirmed that the FIAU – Malta’s anti-money laundering watchdog – had also identified Fenech as the owner of 17 Black.
More importantly, the revelations are based on information provided by none other than Mizzi and Schembri’s accountants at Nexia BT. According to a set of emails in the Panama Papers, the offshore firms owned by Mizzi – the former energy minister – and Schembri were planning to have two Dubai firms, 17 Black and Macbridge, become “main target clients”.
The team behind the Daphne Project also found that the two Dubai companies received unexplained payments of US$ 1.6 million from an offshore company in the Seychelles.
All of the above is not an allegation. It’s material evidence of what seems like a well planned scheme of corruption. But Muscat can take refuge in the Egrant absolution manufactured in his war room and delivered by the so-called independent media.
Muscat has enough evidence to take political action. The least he can do is suspend Mizzi and Schembri until justice takes its course. But he cannot do this as he is stalling the investigation which should determine whether Mizzi, Schembri and Fenech committed a criminal offence.
But the bottom line is that political responsibility is distinct from criminal liability. Anyone suspected of money laundering and bribery has no place in government.
And Muscat cannot shrug off Mizzi and Schembri’s actions as a mistake as he did when their offshore interests in Panama were first uncovered.
A minister visiting a brothel while on official business could pass as an error of judgement. Clearing Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memorial in the middle of the night might be viewed as a mistake.
But opening secret companies in Panama to receive millions from a company owned by a director of the gas powered power station (which was the key electoral promise before being elected in 2013) is no mistake. This is the mother of all scandals and evidence points towards a premeditaed plan of corruption. And Mizzi and Schembri must pay the ultimate political price.
Muscat’s ostensible defence of his two closest aides is no mistake either. At the very least it’s a sign that he is held hostage by his closest friends and their scheming.
A Prime Minister held hostage by his closest friends is in no position to continue leading the country because as he swore upon being appointed Prime Minister in 2013, and again in 2017, Muscat must faithfully and conscientiously perform his duties “in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Malta, without fear or favour.”
By standing by men who planned to commit a crime, Muscat is neither observing the laws of the land nor acting without fear or favour. His refusal to sack the architects of his economic miracle is further confirmation that at Castille it’s un pour tous, tous pour un. If Mizzi and Schembri go, Muscat will go down with them. And so will the masterplan to create a new economic and political model fuelled by hot money and patronage devised by the threesome between 2008 and 2013.
Mizzi and Schembri clearly have lost sight of reality and will not do the right thing and resign. But Muscat must take a decision quickly for this time history will not absolve him.