Who betrayed Joseph Muscat?

In the interview he gave TVM’s L-Erbgħa Fost il-Ġimgħa a few days ago, Joseph Muscat exuded confident authority about his handling of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He displayed rueful frankness about mistakes he may have made in handling Panamagate. But there were five key points which made you wonder if it was all an act.

First, he said it was he who requested the help of the FBI with the assassination. But only a week before, Superintendent George Cremona told the Caruana Galizia inquiry, under oath, that it was he who began to contact foreign experts around 90 minutes after the assassination. It was his initiative.

The police commissioner was only informed subsequently. And Cremona had the documents to back him. How could Muscat get such a crucial detail wrong?

Second, Muscat said he only found out about the Panama companies of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri from the media. But that’s not what he told us in late February 2016, when Caruana Galizia revealed Mizzi’s secret company.

Then, Muscat told us that he had known about the company since early February when Mizzi showed him his parliamentary declaration. He either lied to us then or he lied to us now (unless he lied both times).

Third, Muscat told his interviewer that he takes responsibility for accepting the reasons Mizzi and Schembri gave him.

But he always told us that he had never asked Schembri to explain himself — because Schembri was a businessman and his financial arrangements were up to him. Muscat told us he never even asked him who 17 Black belonged to.

Muscat’s communications chief, Kurt Farrugia, told the inquiry that, when he asked Muscat about 17 Black’s links to Yorgen Fenech, Muscat told him to ask Schembri. As late as November 2018, Muscat saw no reason to ask Schembri for explanations — and he publicly said as much.

So how can Muscat claim to take responsibility for believing explanations he didn’t even ask for? If you didn’t ask for explanations, you weren’t hoodwinked. Under the kindest interpretation, you were actively avoiding compromising involvement. If you didn’t want to look behind the curtain because you were afraid of what you’d find, you are an accomplice.

And that brings us to Mizzi’s explanations. Muscat now says he takes responsibility for accepting them at face value. But just when did he take responsibility?

The Shift has revealed that it was Muscat, in his last weeks in office, who ordered that Mizzi be given a €90,000 contract with the Malta Tourism Authority — just two weeks after Mizzi resigned in disgrace. Muscat was loyal to Mizzi till the end — even after events had boiled over and the rest of the Cabinet pushed Mizzi out.

The contract was so scandalous the Abela government rescinded it when it was revealed; Mizzi was expelled from the Labour parliamentary group. So when did Muscat take responsibility for any oversight regarding Mizzi’s explanation for the Panama company linked to Fenech’s 17 Black?

Never. Nothing made him change his mind as events unfolded. It’s only now, after Mizzi’s expulsion (in a vote Muscat did not participate in), that Muscat allows that he might have been too credulous.

Fourth, Muscat told his interviewer why he resigned as prime minister: the allegations concerning his chief of staff’s possible involvement in the assassination were too ‘heavy’ for him to continue in office.

In other words, nothing that had been revealed prior to Yorgen Fenech’s arrest was ‘heavy’ enough to warrant his resignation. Not even 17 Black, the link to Yorgen Fenech, the payments of €5,000 per day to Mizzi and Schembri, and the latter’s claim not to know who the company belonged to, even though he had ‘draft plans’ with it.

Out of one side of his mouth, Muscat says he takes responsibility for being credulous about the Panama companies. Out of the other, he says there was no responsibility to carry.

Fifth, Muscat was asked if he felt betrayed by Schembri. He replied that people must be the judge of that: he couldn’t possibly appear to sway people one way or the other. But then he told us how he still speaks to Schembri as friends, and how Schembri gave a lot to the country.

But if Schembri is guilty of what he is accused of, then nothing he gave the country compensates for what he took, including Malta’s reputation.

Schembri is the man who claims he lost his phone sometime between the middle of the night and dawn, just before he was arrested for the first time. The current prime minister has publicly stated that he does not believe Schembri.

In short, Robert Abela believes Schembri obstructed justice. Muscat says he can’t just overlook the time they worked together. Indeed.

Who betrayed Muscat? One thing’s for sure. He betrays no sense of betrayal.


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