Robert Abela wants you to believe that the confession and sentencing of Vince Muscat means the institutions are working.
The Degiorgio’s henchman had been trying to strike a deal with prosecutors since April 2018.
That’s when he told police a taxi driver named Melvin Theuma was the middleman in the assassination plot. He wanted a full presidential pardon in exchange for ratting out his accomplices in this and other crimes.
His offer was ignored by Joseph Muscat, turned down by Robert Abela, and finally approved by Abela and his Cabinet last week — nearly three years after he first started talking.
A lifelong criminal with a trail of crimes to his name — including a bank heist — was able to negotiate a 15 year sentence for his role in a brutal political assassination, and for telling all about the unrelated murder of a lawyer connected to the More Supermarket case.
This is a sign of Malta’s institutional soundness?
What sort of deal did they strike with Vince Muscat? What is he expected to tell? And what, if anything, should he leave out?
Why did the Attorney General need to strike a deal with him at all?
The case against Muscat and his fellow hitmen was sewn up with hard evidence from the American FBI and Europol experts, who traced the killers’ movements by meticulous analysis of cell phone data in the days and hours leading up to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
And yet, their case has dragged on for more than three years.
Vince Muscat is unlikely to offer prosecutors anything on the alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech. Melvin Theuma was the buffer between the businessman and the contract killers, and he’s already testifying against both — again, in exchange for a presidential pardon absolving Theuma of responsibility for his crimes.
Both men were able to dictate the terms of their cooperation.
Why were the alleged suppliers of the bomb that killed Daphne — the brothers Tal-Maksar — only arrested after Vince Muscat struck his deal?
They were named to police more than two years ago in connection with the assassination. Everyone seemed to know about their intimate connection to organised crime, drug trafficking, smuggling, and to a string of car bomb killings that played out over the last decade.
Why did ‘the institutions’ wait so long to reel them in?
Why didn’t Robert Abela recuse himself from the Cabinet decision that ultimately led to their arrest? He represented the Tal-Maksar brothers as their lawyer several years earlier. Does his past — and the fact that everyone seemed to know who these guys were — mean the prime minister used to be a mob lawyer?
No, the institutions aren’t working, Robert Abela. Progress in the Caruana Galizia case was made in spite of them.
Contrary to the many versions of official spin, Keith Schembri didn’t call in the FBI on the day Caruana Galizia was killed. George Cremona, head of Malta’s Counter Terrorism Unit, called them — without asking permission from his superiors.
“I was sure that if they come to Malta they could provide services for triangulation and data mining,” he said. “It was my personal initiative. I contacted counterparts in Rome. I informed [former] Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.”
Cremona was testifying at the independent public inquiry Joseph Muscat had refused to call for two years, despite Malta’s clear responsibility under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Of course, the disgraced former prime minister did eventually ‘allow’ the inquiry, after dragging his heels until the very last minute, stalling and dredging up excuses, and issuing passive-aggressive threats — and only after the Council of Europe gave him an unavoidable ultimatum.
Thanks to that inquiry, we know how well Malta’s other institutions performed.
Former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar failed to follow up on any of the high profile corruption cases Caruana Galizia exposed in her work. He told the public inquiry board, “During my time as commissioner of police, a file on the Panama Papers was not opened”.
His Deputy Commissioner, Silvio Valletta, was hanging out with the chief suspect in the murder and passing information to both Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri.
Ian Abdilla, former head of the Economic Crimes Unit, also admitted that police had done nothing about the Panama Papers.
The former head of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit — the institution that compiled damning reports on Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi — told the inquiry his unit was severely under-resourced. So severely that he found it “difficult for the FIAU to exert its duty according to the law and international obligations”.
But surely the public prosecutors were on top of things?
Attorney General Peter Grech issued written advice to police “to tread very carefully on the Panama Papers”. He also advised them that it would be “highly intrusive” to seize evidence from Nexia BT’s servers, saying it would carry a high legal risk which could be “counterproductive”.
Malta’s law enforcement institutions used Grech’s written advice to justify sitting on the evidence, placing journalists — including Caruana Galizia — at greater risk for what they were exposing. And we know where complete impunity led.
The bureaucratic institutions didn’t perform any better.
Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia — responsible for the police — did nothing, claiming he was unaware of the corruption allegations that plagued every major government project and made newspaper headlines daily since 2013. “My role is to give police all the necessary tools,” he said, “not to investigate”.
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna — the man responsible for protecting public finance — stared straight at his desk throughout his tenure, refusing to see the shady deals Konrad Mizzi was signing in your name. “Whoever wants to hijack a system, it is that person who is responsible,” he said. “I am not.”
And ‘continuity’ prime minister Robert Abela did his best to shut the public inquiry down before any more dirt could come out.
The prime minister is insisting that the voluntary conviction of one minor henchman and a couple of other court cases that have dragged on for three years must be heralded as a triumph of Malta’s sound institutions. And he wants you to know no politicians have been implicated in the murder of the journalist who exposed the rot running through those institutions.
I gave up on Abela’s integrity and competence long ago. But the most troubling statement of all came from police commissioner Angelo Gafa.
He held a press conference late Wednesday night to tell the nation that the case is clear cut. “With the evidence we have,” Gafa said, “we are in a position to say that every person involved, be it mastermind or accomplice, is under arrest or facing charges”.
I’m told he made this statement after attempting to explain the difference between ‘intel’ and court level ‘evidence’.
Like you, I’ve followed the reports from the public inquiry and Yorgen Fenech’s trial, and I’ve heard the same set of names come up again and again in connection to the corruption that led to Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Keith Schembri. Konrad Mizzi. ‘Ix–Xiħ’.
Financial crime aside, the testimony we’ve heard indicates — at the very least — collusion to cover up that murder at the highest levels of government.
This information only came out because the people took to the streets in December 2019 and shut the country down.
Commissioner Gafa may have netted the small fry — the three hitmen, the middleman, the one who financed it, and the men who supplied the bomb.
But responsibility doesn’t end there. And neither does accountability.