“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.” – Joseph Pulitzer
Keith Schembri, disgraced former chief of staff to disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was in court again yesterday attempting to deceive the magistrate, and us, into believing that he’s not a crook. This appearance came just a day after Manfred Weber, president of the European People’s Party, stood up in the European Parliament and declared Malta’s ruling Party knew about the plot to assassinate Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Schembri, so far charged “only” with corruption and money laundering crimes that Caruana Galizia uncovered in 2016, is hoping the court will allow him to go home while the criminal case against him proceeds, instead of keeping him locked up in the prison he’s evaded for so long. In the meantime, several of his colleagues in the PL administration are looking on, wondering whether they’re on anyone’s radar and if they are, how much of the truth might be waiting in the wings to cut them down.
The European Parliament debate on Thursday that the PL MEPs tried so hard to block, was as damaging to and damning of Malta’s Labour Party as they expected it to be. While many of us are reeling under the shock of the evidence given in court by the hitmen employed to murder Caruana Galizia, Thursday’s European Parliament debate made it apparent that most European parliamentarians are equally aghast, disgusted and appalled by the revelations, all of which point to a deep rot, a stench of pure filth coming directly from Malta’s Labour Party in government.
Weber linked his unflinching accusation that the PL knew of the conspiracy to eliminate Caruana Galizia to claims by three of the accused killers that one or more former and sitting ministers were involved in the plot. He stressed that it was clear the ground-breaking journalist was killed because of what she was writing. He expressed disbelief that there has been no political accountability for the assassination from anyone in government.
Many of us share that disbelief. Indeed, as the cases against Schembri and his 10 fellow-accused start playing out in court, proving Caruana Galizia’s reports to have been correct, and as the case against her accused killers progresses slowly and agonisingly, something else is becoming clear to anyone interested in the truth.
There are no innocent parties within the PL government. There is not one PL MP or official who can creditably claim ignorance of either the rampant corruption of Muscat’s government or the vicious, cold-blooded assassination of the journalist who was exposing it.
Robert Abela, Chris Fearne, Evarist Bartolo, Edward Scicluna, Owen Bonnici, Justyne Caruana, Michael Farrugia, Julia Farrugia Portelli, Miriam Dalli, Jose Herrera and the rest of the miserable gang of enablers and apologists are all as guilty as the rest of their criminal associates. Whether they all profited financially or not we may not know yet, but we certainly know that some did.
We also know that by helping the criminals to cover up their crimes, by parroting the nausea-inducing phrase “let the institutions do their jobs” – when they knew perfectly well that not only were the institutions not doing their jobs, but the very few individuals within those institutions who tried to do their jobs were immediately blocked, attacked, sacked or persecuted – they have branded themselves as complicit.
Their silence through the years has certainly proved golden for those they protected, allowing the crooks to continue their unbridled rape and ravage of Malta’s most precious resources. Their strict adherence to mafia-style “omerta” enabled the criminals to carry out their jaw-dropping, brazen ransack of the country and, worst of all, gave them the confidence to turn to murder when everything else they tried to gag Caruana Galizia failed.
They all knew. Their silence proves it. Their continued deception of the Maltese public proves it. Their unabated determination to stymie, block and frustrate any attempt to expose the truth, whether through European Parliament debates, magisterial inquiries, police action or civil society and NGOs’ protests proves they were all in it together.
There’s a reason people who do things in secret are considered underhand, dishonest and shifty. Even when no actual proof of wrong-doing can be found, the very act of concealing things from others brands anyone who does it as untrustworthy and suspect. Secrecy always breeds suspicion. In Malta, where social circles are miniscule and gossip a valued currency, secrets are hard to keep and scandals very often become common knowledge within hours of their occurrence.
But for secrets to make the leap from salacious, backroom whispers to publicly acknowledged facts there needs to be someone willing to put their neck on the line, someone prepared to make the accusation, point the finger and seek and provide the proof. Most people in Malta cringe away from doing anything like that. Malta’s too small, they bleat. You never know who you might need in the future, they whine.
Joseph Pulitzer, a genuine American rags-to-riches phenomenon, was one of the first newspapermen to focus on exposing corruption, scandal and malfeasance in politicians and other prominent personalities. He and his biggest rival in the US newspaper wars of the late 1800s, Randolph Hearst, are accused of promoting so-called yellow journalism – what we might call “clickbait” today – in their decades-long battle for readers, but Pulitzer’s main legacy to journalists everywhere remains the legitimisation of the imperative to uncover secrets, expose crime and unmask villains.
Malta had Daphne Caruana Galizia, almost single-handedly playing the role that in other countries is assumed by an entire media industry. Though since her brutal assassination a few local news organisations have begun following up on her stories and giving posthumous support to her cause, at the time she was writing she was very much a lone voice. The only one who dared raise her head above the parapet and expose the secrets and the scandals people gossiped about in drawing rooms, bars and coffee shops.
Keith Schembri and several of his fellow-accused will be spending another weekend in jail, but too many of the perpetrators within the Labour Party are still at large, and still counting on getting away with their crimes. Keeping secrets has worked for them so far, at least in the eyes of their supporters. But unless they begin to stand up, one by one, to protest, confess, expose and condemn the corruption, greed and murder that so obviously became the hallmarks of this government, every single PL MP and official should be viewed as being as guilty as the rest.
In many countries, aiding and abetting a crime is punished as severely as actually committing the crime. Keeping secrets for criminals, thereby allowing them to operate with impunity means each one of those MPs and officials is not just a bystander, but an active, accountable participant.