A large crowd braved the wind and rain to stand outside Parliament calling for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi to “resign and leave” while holding brooms, blowing whistles and banging pots.
Standing under umbrellas, they accused politicians in government of being “corrupt”, telling them to “get out”. Outside parliament, the protestors shouted, “Thieves your place is in prison,” and “shame on you,” while throwing fake €5,000 notes printed with the faces of Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri and the flags of Panama and Azerbaijan.
The amount refers to kickbacks of €5,000 daily from Dubai company 17 Black to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, according to leaked emails. The owner was revealed to be Yorgen Fenech, then chair of Tumas Group, who was arrested last week as the suspected mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
The Prime Minister had “to choose right over wrong and to do right by all and not just a few friends of friends. We here together to take action now – what are you waiting for? Where is your loyalty to our country? Do your duty. Mizzi must be kicked out now,” activists said to the crowd gathered in Valletta on Monday evening.
The parliament building was heavily surrounded by barricades and police officers as MPs walked in and out of the area. Occupy Justice and Repubblika, the civil society organisations behind the protest, said it was time for the right action to be taken.
The crowd waited for the Prime Minister to exit Parliament and enter his car, which left Valletta, and started booing wildly when he appeared. While waiting for the MPs to exit Parliament, the crowd screamed “murderers” and “mafia”.
This is the fourth protest organised by the two civil society organisations in the wake of all the recent developments that took place. During one of last week’s protests, on Wednesday, protestors surrounded Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s car outside Parliament calling for justice and an end to impunity.
Fenech was last week stopped by the Armed Forces of Malta while attempting to leave the island on his luxury yacht Gio. He had left Portomaso Marina before dawn, less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister announced that he had promised a conditional presidential pardon to a person suspected of acting as a middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder – Melvin Theuma.
Theuma, 41, from Birkirkara, was not one of the original 10 arrested on 4 December 2017, following Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Reportedly working as a taxi driver and long time ‘fixer’ for Yorgen Fenech, court records show that Theuma had been accused of usury (loan sharking), although it is unclear whether he was ever convicted. Court records include claims by a witness that Theuma drew a gun on someone to force them to sign a private agreement recognising a debt due.
The government said in a statement that the presidential pardon for Theuma had been formally approved by President George Vella this afternoon.
Its aim was to establish “all the facts” Theuma had in connection with the murder as well as other crimes in which he had been involved, the government said. It was also subject to a number of conditions that required his full cooperation. The Office of the Prime Minister added that the pardon could be retracted and action would be taken against him, if Theuma failed to keep in line with the conditions imposed.
Parliament was suspended today, awaiting the Speaker’s ruling, after Opposition Leader Adrian Delia called on the House to have an urgent debate on the political implications of developments in the Caruana Galizia murder investigation. He called for Parliament to adjourn in light of the “grave, unprecedented circumstances” that took place since Fenech’s arrest last week.
Whilst the people have taken to the streets in protest we fight for democracy and the rule of law in parliament. This is not about partisan politics . This is about our country. pic.twitter.com/o2xF7e6dc0
— Adrian Delia (@adriandeliapn) November 25, 2019
PN MEP and European Parliament Quaestor David Casa called on the European Council President to “intervene to help safeguard Malta’s democracy and to ensure the respect of the values listed in Article 2 of the Treaty in Malta and in particular, justice and the rule of law”. In a letter, Casa told President Donald Tusk that the “situation today is degenerating into unprecedented desperation”.
Fenech’s arrest “was supposed to bring us closer to justice, but Muscat’s interference poses a nauseating predicament that is rapidly further eroding trust in the institutions of the State”.
A number of Labour ministers and MPs were doorstepped by the press today as they made their way into an urgent parliamentary group meeting, during which they unanimously voted in favour of the Prime Minister. Schembri, who was seen in Valletta earlier in the day, refused to answer any questions and simply said, “no comment”.
Mizzi, like Schembri, was exposed by the Panama Papers as owning an offshore company as well as a Trust in New Zealand. Despite reported links to 17 Black, the Minister said he had no intention of resigning from his post as it was not his political responsibility to shoulder.
I call on all European leaders to recognise constitutional crisis @JosephMuscat_JM has placed Malta in. Not only is his resignation imperative, but he no longer has moral or political authority to represent Malta on European level.
You have blood on your hands, Prime Minister. pic.twitter.com/cDpDKkEmfo
— David Casa (@DavidCasaMEP) November 25, 2019
The Prime Minister has resisted calls for his resignation and for the dismissal of his Chief of Staff and star Minister responsible for major deals negotiated on energy and hospitals, among others, the details of which remain under wraps.
Last week, the Caruana Galizia family called on the Prime Minister to step back from the investigation to ensure that justice was served. The call was supported by Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pieter Omtzigt who, in a series of tweets, said Muscat should be distancing himself from the investigation.
Fenech was a shareholder and director in Electrogas, contracted to build and run the new Delimara power plant. He resigned from his post as Chair of Tumas Group, involved in the consortium awarded the deal, handing control of Tumas over to his brother Franco just days before his arrest.
Electrogas entered into an 18-year agreement with the Azerbaijani State-owned company SOCAR to supply Enemalta with liquefied natural gas and electricity for the project. It later emerged that Malta was paying twice the market price for this gas.