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Who’s watching the watcher?

Photo DOI, Clodagh Farrugia O'Neill

What if Yorgen Fenech decided to ask for a presidential pardon?

One day before Fenech was arrested in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Joseph Muscat promised to grant the alleged middleman in the case a conditional pardon in exchange for testimony that leads to the conviction of the mastermind.

If Fenech was the mastermind of this crime, he’s looking down the barrel of life in prison. What if he decided to spill the beans in exchange for immunity? To tell the police everything he knows about the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and about NexiaBT, Panama, Electrogas, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi… possibly even Muscat himself?

The details aren’t spelled out in the Constitution, but it is Cabinet who decides to grant a presidential pardon, and the President signs it. Yet it appears that Cabinet has handed the Prime Minister (or he has assumed for himself) a carte blanche to negotiate pardons.

Yes, you read that right.

The man who has spent the last three years shielding Schembri and Mizzi from prosecution has been handed the power to decide whether a key witness in a murder case that could implicate his closest associates is granted a pardon in exchange for his testimony.

That’s the most alarming issue here, but it isn’t the only one.

The question of a possible plea bargain with Fenech has already been raised. That’s not the same thing as a presidential pardon. A pardon is immunity in exchange for revealing everything. A plea bargain involves making a deal to reveal some of the dirt in exchange for a reduced sentence. But who decides which dirt gets revealed, and in exchange for which sentence?

That brings me to the next question.

Who’s in charge of this investigation? Muscat can’t seem to keep the story straight.

When asked whether he would fire Schembri and Mizzi, Muscat insisted he couldn’t meddle in an investigation and must wait until justice takes its course.

But when asked about the dramatic arrest of Fenech on the high seas, Muscat tried to suggest he was personally responsible for apprehending the suspect, telling reporters that he had ordered increased surveillance after announcing his plan to pardon the mastermind. 

“Had I not done that,” he said, “today we might be talking of a person or persons of interest having potentially escaped”.

So which is it? Is he meddling or not able to meddle?

And while we’re on the subject, why is the Prime Minister giving details of an investigation that he should not be privy to?

This question was raised at a press conference this morning when a journalist asked, “What role are you speaking in today, Police Commissioner, Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Prime Minister?”

“I’m speaking as the Prime Minister,” Muscat replied, as though there was nothing odd about a politician giving all public updates on the most recent developments in a murder investigation.

In a normal country with functioning rule of law, that role is filled by the Police Commissioner, or by an official spokesperson from the police department.

But Muscat justified his actions by saying, “I don’t want to burden the police with making public announcements on an ongoing and extremely delicate case so I’m shouldering the responsibility of informing the public.”

Given the suspected mastermind’s clearly documented criminal connections to the Prime Minister’s own Chief of Staff and his star minister Mizzi, the public could be forgiven for thinking that Muscat is trying to control the narrative.

We know that Tillgate and Hearnville, the Panama companies owned by Schembri and Mizzi, were set up in order to receive kickbacks from Fenech’s company 17 Black. We also know that the Electrogas power station deal was one of the major deals that Fenech (along with others) was involved in and that was suspect enough to need more than a little help from government officials to be selected and to get over the finish line

We know Caruana Galizia received a large collection of leaked documents on the Electrogas deal, and that this is one of the major stories that she was working on when her life was cut short by a massive car bomb.

It is inevitable that investigators will need to examine Fenech’s links with Schembri and Mizzi. Muscat must not be allowed to place himself in a position where he could potentially control an investigation that implicates his own office, his closest friends and officials.

But is there any functioning institution left in the country that can stop him? Or have the Prime Minister’s powers of appointment gutted their independence in line with warnings raised by the Venice Commission and by the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)?

Where are the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General?

Where is the rest of the government? Why this deafening silence from so many Cabinet Ministers?

We know where the Minister of Justice has been. Complaining about minor damage to his taxpayer-funded car after he chose to take it through the centre of a peaceful anti-corruption protest.

The rest of the world is watching in shock as the situation in Malta unravels like the threads of a badly-knit sweater. But rather than step up and take charge, this government is trying to redirect the narrative to focus on the protestors. Will the government crack down on peaceful dissent?

Joseph Muscat looks like a man trying desperately to control something that is rapidly spiralling out of control.

But one thing has become very clear.

The Prime Minister must resign immediately and distance himself from this investigation. He and his inner circle are too deeply implicated to be in control of it.

 

 

 

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