Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt described being shadowed by police during his fact-finding visits to Malta, an assignment he called “my most difficult job ever”.
I had a similar experience when I spent a week in North Korea in 2001.
I was accompanied by two escorts everywhere I went in the world’s most paranoid State — political minders disguised as ‘tourist guides’ — plus a man with a video camera whose job it was to record my trip ‘in case I wanted to buy the souvenir video afterwards’.
I suspect the video he wanted to capture was of foreigners leaving the obligatory bouquet at the base of the giant Kim il-Sung statue, so they could use it to show how deeply admired the Great Leader is by the nations of the world. Sort of like the way Joseph Muscat shamelessly used world leaders — including the Pope — for photo ops to feed his sense of self-importance.
I was warned before I went that we would be listened to in our hotel rooms, and I was told not to say I was a writer when they did my pre-trip background check. North Koreans are paranoid about any sort of press — at least, when those writers aren’t part of their Party-controlled ‘news’ outlets.
In Malta, Kim Jong Joey’s reign has been characterised by a similar hostility towards the independent media. He stopped giving press conferences long ago, preferring instead to address his most loyal subjects at Sunday sermons surrounded by cheering worshippers.
Of course, the Crime Minister and his Party machine have always been more concerned with convincing their own followers that il-Kink is putting money in their pockets. Hence the massive taxpayer-funded social media ad campaigns, and coordinated online hate groups whose role is to attack critics and distort the truth to fit their desired version of it.
Independent investigators like Omtzigt are a threat to them because, unlike so many others in Malta, he can’t be intimidated or bought off.
That’s why this government has consistently attacked the messenger by attempting to discredit Omtzigt at every stage of his investigation.
But whose idea was it to edit the Special Rapporteur’s personal Wikipedia page to say he paid Russia for false information?
The revision history of any page is public — including the fact that this addition came from the IP address of a Maltese government Ministry.
It’s never a good idea to smear your dirty fingerprints all over the windows, but I guess that’s what happens when you put unqualified political appointees in charge of a delicate job. Please, guys, exercise a little more craft in your propaganda efforts next time.
Muscat’s other consultants wouldn’t do such clumsy work, would they? No, for more important jobs — such as the Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination — ‘his’ government only hires the best. In that case, the high priced British public relations firm Chelgate.
But why did Muscat need the services of an expensive foreign consultancy that specialises in “crisis management”?
Was it to defend his image in Europe as details came out about the political assassination of a journalist who was investigating his corruption-plagued administration? Or was he using public funds to launder his reputation in the hope of landing that long sought after top EU post?
I’m sorry to be the one to tell him, but no bleach in the world will remove the stain in those particular shorts.
The strange way Omtzigt’s visit was handled doesn’t make Malta worse than North Korea. Thankfully, Muscat doesn’t have nuclear weapons. The uncontrollable proliferation of his ego is bad enough.
But this government’s behaviour does put Malta on a par with Putin’s Russia, Europe’s other Mafia State.
The rest of Europe is under no illusions that Malta is punching well above its weight when it comes to secrecy, shadiness, corruption and shameless self-enrichment. And I think at this point they also know why.
Politicians are never reluctant to get their faces in the news, but none of them wanted to be seen with Muscat at the last EU summit. Everyone suddenly found something urgent to look at on Instagram when he showed up, or a spec on their spectacles that needed immediate wiping.
It was like a game of schoolyard tag, and Malta’s Prime Minister clearly had cooties. Unfortunately, he isn’t the only one.
As any child will tell you, cooties are a contact contagion. Muscat’s actions haven’t just soiled his own unrepairable reputation. If you’re a Maltese citizen or foreign resident, he’s also soiled yours.
No amount of Wikipedia hacking or reputation laundering will take that stain away.