Keith Schembri, who not so long ago brushed aside journalists’ questions with the deprecating, spite-filled claim that he was paying their salaries, is set to be arraigned in court on criminal charges related to bribery and money laundering. We know this because he told us, in a long public dirge on Facebook, and not because the police made a public announcement.
I know I’m not the only person asking why. Why did Schembri, by most accounts a shrewd strategist, decide to go public in the way he did? Was he attempting to pre-empt and capture the narrative with his claims of innocent victimhood before a police statement marked him indelibly with the stamp of common criminal? Was his Facebook opus actually a secret message to someone, a hidden warning to some accomplice who had been expected to protect him?
Was it a rallying cry for all the downtrodden sons of the Labour movement to come to his aid? To gather in their thousands, as in the photograph he used to illustrate his post, and demand his release? A Trump-like call to arms, to whip his supporters into an outraged frenzy to participate in a KMB-style throwback event?
People with a reputation such as Schembri’s, for cleverness, calculated craftiness, arrogance, ambition at all costs and sly spitefulness, often find that their actions are invariably seen through those same lenses. Knowing what we know, albeit probably only a tiny fraction of the truth, there’s no way anyone with a working brain will have taken Schembri’s lament at face value. This was not a “poor me” in any real sense.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was the first to call out disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government as a mafia organisation. She has, of course, been proved right a thousand times over, as has her insistence that at the heart of this organised crime regime sat Keith Schembri himself, whom she identified as the power behind the throne, the actual architect and driver of the plan to hijack all the country’s institutions, install puppet yes-men at their helms and thus protect themselves from ever having to pay for their crimes.
So, while Schembri wrote that his impending arraignment is related to accusations that he bribed former Allied Group Managing Director Adrian Hillman to award a multi-million euro contract to his company in 2008, something he dismisses as business dealings between two private companies, it’s important to keep in mind that all this happened around the time that the newspaper owned by Allied Group, The Times of Malta, began to change the angle of its reporting dramatically.
Indeed, this alleged underworld deal with Hillman, resulting in the “strong bridge” cited by Schembri between Malta’s then most-read newspaper and the Labour Party, rather than a straightforward contract between two private firms, actually begins to seem like the very foundation upon which the Muscat-PL organised crime network was first laid. In 2008 the PN won their third electoral victory in a row, by the slimmest of margins. In the aftermath of that election, Joseph Muscat was elected leader of the Labour Party, replacing Alfred Sant.
Muscat and his childhood friend, Keith Schembri knew they had five years in which to spark the Labour “revolution” and create their notorious “roadmap” for the years they were planning to “make the most of it,” as Mrs Muscat once memorably put it, while in power.
Their first move was to capture the most-influential newspaper on the island, the support of which would be crucial to winning over a vast swathe of voters who would otherwise never dream of voting Labour. It’s almost incredible to me that Adrian Hillman, who’d been entrusted with the management of one of the most respected, venerable institutions in Malta, could possibly have fallen for this tawdry ruse.
And yet fall for it he did, thus helping lay the ground for the Labour Party’s 2013 electoral win and the activation of all the crooked deals that were planned so carefully in the five years prior. The “octopus” was released, thanks in great part to Hillman and his pact with the devil, and its tentacles sent winding their way into every nook and cranny of the State’s institutions.
So, while Schembri has so far not been forced to face justice on the myriad other accusations that swirl around him, including the fact that he has been accused of being at the heart of the plot to assassinate Caruana Galizia, the news that he is to be charged in the Hillman case is hugely significant. Without the assistance of The Times of Malta, Muscat may never have succeeded in conning so many otherwise sensible people into voting for the Labour Party in 2013.
Without this sordid deal, the rest of Schembri’s and Muscat’s “roadmap” of corruption may never have seen the light of day. The Electrogas deal, which had been turned down by the previous PN government, would never have come to fruition; accused murderer Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black and the Panama companies owned by Schembri and Konrad Mizzi would never have exchanged a penny, Pilatus Bank would never have got a banking licence, the Vitals hospital swindle would never have happened. Muscat’s government has been accused of so many shockingly criminal acts that it beggars belief that their authors have managed to evade justice for so long.
Of course, what ifs are pointless in most situations. But in helping to underline the importance of certain events, what ifs are invaluable. And they bring us back to why Schembri chose to inform everyone via a Facebook post that he’s going to be arraigned on criminal charges in the coming days. Was he attempting to capture the narrative? Sending out a warning to someone? Calling out the die-hard Labour supporters to stand up and defend him?
Looking back at the last, horrendous eight years under the PL government, it seems to me that Schembri’s Facebook post was actually all three. Seizing the narrative, as he did in 2008 by entrapping Hillman in his own greed; issuing a threat, perhaps to Joseph Muscat, who has compromised himself a million times over protecting Schembri in the past, or even to Robert Abela, who was, after all, Muscat’s legal adviser before he replaced him as prime minister.
And at the same time, perhaps, his post was also an attempt to rally the troops, to ignite the outrage and indignation that one of their own, a Labour boy born and bred, is being “persecuted” by the amorphous “establishment” – though of course, up to just over a year ago, Schembri himself was not only an integral part of the “establishment,” but actually one of its most ruthless and powerful architects.