Can’t convince someone to sell you that piece of land you’ve been coveting?
Have a friend take him out on a three-day pub crawl, get him plastered and try and try and try again until he finally gives in.
Just make sure you’ve got a notary standing by so you can sign the papers before anyone else finds out about it — especially the meddlesome immediate family.
That’s what Ian Borg is alleged to have done back in 2014.
You see, Borg really wanted a piece of property next to his home in Rabat’s Santa Katerina valley.
He reportedly badgered the owner for months, but the field had been in his family for generations and he simply didn’t want to sell.
And that’s when things took a turn for the shady.
The man who owned the property, Anthony Scicluna, had a long history of mental illness, including schizoaffective disorder and addictions to alcohol and gambling. His suffering was severe enough to require stays in Mount Carmel Hospital, and more than a decade of psychiatric care.
Such a plight would spark compassion in most people but in others it’s just an exploitable weakness.
According to Scicluna’s family, the property owner left his home one Friday evening on a pub crawl and didn’t show up again until Monday morning — he only popped in for a shower and a change of clothes.
He was picked up by his drinking buddies at 7am and whisked to a meeting with a notary where he signed over the long-coveted field to your very own Captain Cartoon for the bargain price of €10,000.
The contract was finalised in less than 24 hours.
Borg got what he wanted, and everything would have moved on as it does in Malta, with a stench of gossip, bad blood and endless grudges, if only The Malta Independent hadn’t published a story describing every sordid detail.
One of the middlemen took exception to the article and attempted to cleanse his reputation with a libel suit.
The case took years to crawl through the courts, but Borg was finally called to testify last week. Needless to say, it didn’t go well.
Magistrate Victor Axiaq said the court “finds it very hard to believe that Ian Borg, who admitted to knowing Scicluna for around 18 years and knew of his problems with his family, could not then know of the state of his mental health.”
Even if there was no collusion between the then parliamentary secretary and the bar-hopping middlemen, they had a moral obligation to ascertain whether Scicluna really wanted to sell his land for a price below market value — even if it meant seeking professional help to assess his mental condition for signing a contract.
The libel suit against the journalists was dismissed as fair comment on an issue of public interest, and Borg received a humiliating scolding.
When asked about the case the next day, he dismissed news reports of “what the court respectfully said” as spin and refused to answer further questions.
Such arrogance has become his trademark. The Minister for the Eradication of Trees has a history of doubling down in the face of the obvious — most memorably when dismissing a journalist’s concerns about the safety of his latest road building project.
“It’s not a pothole,” he had said, referring to a large hole in the tarmac of the brand new Marsa flyover. “Can you appreciate, it’s not a pothole? It’s not a pothole. I told you what it is.”
“A gaping hole…?” the reporter replied.
The only hole Borg exposed is the one we’ve been swerving around all along: the gaping hole where his integrity should be.
In some countries, swindling the mentally ill out of property would get you ostracised. In Malta, such petty cunning doesn’t even disqualify you from high office.
Expecting Borg to resign would be to hold Malta to standards that the rest of the democratic world considers normal. Those at the top must be exemplars of ethical behaviour and strict adherence to the rule of law.
But why would you pick on Little Ian when everyone else gets away with things, too?
You had an Energy Minister and chief of staff who opened secret offshore accounts within hours of Labour’s election to power.
A former Finance Minister under investigation for his role in a deal to sell three public hospitals to known fraudsters.
A Justice Minister who exchanged hundreds of chat messages with the accused mastermind of a journalist’s execution, and a former Justice Minister found guilty by the Constitutional Court of violating a citizen’s human right to free expression.
And we haven’t even begun to examine the complete impunity enjoyed by those lower down the public purse food chain, like Money Monster Joseph Cuschieri, Jason ‘Foot-in-Mouth’ Micallef, and an entire upper echelon of law enforcement officials who avoided prosecuting people in power — presumably to save their own cushy jobs.
Oh, in case you’re wondering what became of the field swindled from the mentally ill Anthony Scicluna, Borg finally got a permit to build a swimming pool on it after years of attempts to transform ODZ land into a private landscaped recreation area.
Maltese voters are spoiled for choice when it comes to officials who believe laws apply to everyone but them.
I think you can see the problem straight away.
When citizens see top government ministers breaking laws with impunity, and enjoying protection from prosecution in clearly documented cases of corruption, it sends a very clear message.
Why should anyone else stay within bounds when they see their elected officials flaunt them so brazenly?
The country you’re living in becomes a place where anything can be done to you — especially by those with connections to government.