Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has been selected as the 2019 Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
A murdered journalist, shady offshore deals and a tiny nation in the grip of large-scale criminal interests were the leading factors that led to the panel of eight experts in the field of organised crime, corruption and terrorism to unanimously select Muscat, according to their statement, which is being reproduced below.
The OCCRP pointed out that, under Muscat’s leadership, criminality and corruption have flourished, and in many cases gone unpunished, creating an environment that led to the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, investigators and government critics say.
The Maltese government’s investigation into the killing of Caruana Galizia, who exposed corruption at the highest levels of Muscat’s government, foundered for years. But that changed in November when authorities arrested the alleged mastermind, a Maltese businessman who is a close friend of Muscat’s longtime associate and former top aide Keith Schembri. Schembri was recently detained and questioned in connection with the killing. Throughout the process, Muscat has been openly dismissive of the allegations and has refused to remove those involved from their government posts.
“Muscat has shown a total disdain for the media, free speech, and has allowed corrupt figures to order killings with impunity,” said Louise I. Shelley, the founder and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at the Schar School of Government and Policy at George Mason University. “OCCRP through this award honors the courageous investigators of the heinous murder and shows that the powerful can be brought to account.”
The title is given to a global figure who has earned it based “on their own corrupt behaviour or their contribution to organised crime and corruption anywhere in the world,” the OCCRP said.
The panel believed the actions of Muscat constituted the most extreme form of corruption.
“Failed political leadership, as exercised by this man, represents the current crisis that is shaking the foundations — freedom of speech and rule of law — of the European Union,” said Saska Cvetkovska, editor-in-chief of the Investigative Reporting Lab in Macedonia and a member of OCCRP’s board of directors.
When these foundations are jeopardized, it allows corruption to go unchecked, she said.
Other finalists for 2019 included US President Donald J.Trump, who is accused of breaking the law by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate a political rival in the upcoming US presidential election, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s self-proclaimed personal attorney, who is under federal investigation into whether he illegally put pressure on Ukraine to pursue the conspiracy theory and Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, the son of the longtime president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who stands accused in a corruption scheme that saw US$50 million siphoned off from the Congolese treasury.
Last year, the OCCRP named Danske Bank for its role in a massive money laundering scandal. Muscat now stands along other previous winners of the award, which include Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.
Since 2012, OCCRP accepted nominations from the public and journalists and chosen from them the individual, or organization, who has done the most in the world to advance transnational criminal activity and the political collusion that goes along with it.