They’re laughing at you

I thought it was a joke at first, or at best, a really convincing parody. But no, the announcement appeared on the official website of the Azerbaijan State News Agency.

It’s a message from the people of the Republic of Malta to one of the shady nations that’s robbing them blind.

Freshly inaugurated President George Vella wants the dictator of Azerbaijan to know he wishes him well. Not just “well”, in fact, but he sends Ilham Aliyev “assurances of my highest consideration”.

I’m not quite sure what that means. But President Vella’s letter of greeting on the occasion of Azerbaijan’s national day couldn’t be less diplomatically worded.

I mean, did he really think it’s a good idea to “reiterate the desire of the Republic of Malta to continue building on the existing positive bilateral relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan” after the Pilatus Bank scandal and an energy deal the Council of Europe described as “sinister“?

What are we supposed to think he means when he expresses Malta’s desire to explore “new avenues of multilevel cooperation buttressed by mutual political will”?

Is he making it clear that the Malta money laundromat is still open for business? Is President Vella in the market for some overpriced natural gas? Or do Minister Hearnville and Chief Tillgate have another shady deal up their sleeves?

Well, one thing’s for sure. When the President says he wants to “ensure the successful outcome of new and meaningful initiatives that will benefit our countries and our people”, he really does mean “our people”. (Hint: unless you’re part of Joseph Muscat’s inner circle, you’re not one of them.)

President Vella is in illustrious company. His well wishes on behalf of Malta are just one among a list of corruption-plagued countries that Malta now finds itself grouped with. The King of Bahrain, the President of the Maldives, and the Sultan of Brunei are all proudly represented.

At first I was startled to see the Queen of England, the King of Sweden, and Harald V of Norway listed down below in a section called ‘Related News’. Surely they wouldn’t be sending official greetings to one of the nastiest dictators this side of Kickbackistan?

Alas, no, that was just a collection of carbon copied greetings from Aliyev to those monarchs on their national day. I’m pretty sure that, unlike Joseph Muscat, they didn’t return his calls.

Diplomatic formalities aside, none of the other “national day greetings” were as glowing as the one sent by Malta. Vella even added his own personal recollections of his 2016 trip to the authoritarian State saying, “I recall with pleasure the bilateral meeting we had some years back in Baku”.

This is the same country that attempted to bribe members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) with brown envelopes of cash before a vote on resolutions related to its human rights violations.

The same country whose corrupt ruling family and associates were stashing money in Malta’s Pilatus bank — along with Keith Schembri and John Dalli – until the European Central Bank shut it down after the arrest of Iranian owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in the United States.

And this is the same country involved in Konrad Mizzi’s Electrogas deal, where Maltese taxpayers have the privilege of buying liquid natural gas from SOCAR, the Azeri State energy company, at prices well above market rates. As if to add insult to State-level impunity, the gas doesn’t even come from Azerbaijan. They buy it from Shell, mark up the price, and sell it to their good friends in Malta at a premium.

Does President Vella really not understand that cosying up to Azerbaijan isn’t the best idea right now — especially with Malta under the microscope of the Council of Europe, among a list of others so long it’s hard to keep track?

It isn’t enough to control the institutions of government so firmly that Joseph Muscat’s inner circle has no risk of being investigated, let alone prosecuted, for what is now very obvious widespread corruption.

They can’t just shut up and rob the nation blind without being smug about it as well.

It’s really begun to feel like they’re laughing at you.

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