The Marquis de Sade’s Justine, a virtuous maiden forced to align herself with criminals in order to survive, is the character that most immediately comes to mind whenever I hear the name.
Of course, like all the wicked 18th century reprobate’s tales, the story of this unfortunate damsel in distress winds up demonstrating that vice pays and virtue fails, though Justine herself remains uncorrupted till her tragic end, sunken beneath morose introspection and felled by a fatal lightning strike.
Her namesake, updated with a y, appears to have learned her lesson about vice versus virtue a lot earlier than her wretched alter ego. Justyne Caruana, currently Minister for Education and formerly Minister for Gozo, has treated us all to a seemingly unending smorgasbord of scandal over the last few years.
Married to an allegedly bent copper, she was forced to resign as Gozo Minister because her policeman husband was suspected of being involved with the accused mastermind of the assassination of Malta’s leading journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. After less than a year in purgatory, she was brought back in to take on the Education Ministry; a curious choice, but that’s Prime Minister Robert Abela for you.
The lack of embarrassment is astonishing. This wasn’t just any husband suspected of misdemeanours or minor infractions. This was a high-ranking policeman husband, named in court as the person passing on details of Caruana Galizia’s movements to her eventual assassins.
This was a high-ranking policeman husband accused in court by one of the conspirators in Caruana Galizia’s slaying of providing details of the investigation and information about forthcoming arrests to be leaked to the hitmen themselves. This was a high-ranking policeman husband who thought nothing of making a close friend of the accused mastermind of Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Yet, somehow, Caruana and her prime minister seem to believe that the fact that she jettisoned her most intimate family member as soon as his shady behaviour was made public means we’re all going to believe her claim that she knew nothing, saw nothing and heard nothing. Brazen it out, even when the most basic of logic will contradict you, just brazen it out and you’ll get away with anything.
This pitiable defence – together with “I can’t remember”, the preferred fallback of the liar who’s told so many untruths that he’s afraid of tying himself up in his own knots – is becoming very familiar to anyone following the relentless onslaught of Labour Party sleaze and scandal battering our sad little island.
And Caruana appears determined to provide her fair share. She’d barely had time to identify the most comfortable chair in the Education Ministry when we were hit with the news that she’d recruited a former footballer, and, allegedly, her new squeeze, to draw up a report on the operations of the National Sports School.
Daniel Bogdanovic, who ‘was or wasn’t’ a member of her ministry’s secretariat, was awarded a €5000 a month contract, despite having no educational qualifications or background to justify his employment.
Once again, one has to ask, isn’t this horrifically embarrassing for Prime Minister Abela? Clearly, it provoked no blushes for Caruana herself, who appeared quite oblivious to the shocked whispers behind her back. But doesn’t the prime minister feel even a tiny bit mortified about having stuck his neck out for a cabinet minister who seems not to comprehend that public funds are not really hers to play with as she wishes?
Having said that, it seems the ex-wife of Bogdanovic Alison Apap’s insistence on telling people about Caruana’s affair did irritate Justyne with a y. And she decided to do something about it in the manner in which, one can only assume, many years living with a policeman will have taught her. She made a criminal complaint of stalking against her presumed boyfriend’s estranged wife and sister-in-law.
But she didn’t simply walk into a police station and report the alleged stalking to the first officer she found. No. According to news reports, the police inspector who issued the charges, Josef Gauci, just happens to be the brother of Stephen Gauci, her assistant private secretary at the education ministry.
As we all now know, she had to withdraw her complaint after the two sisters put forward a list of 40 witnesses ready to speak in their defence. But what she appears to have tried to do – use her connections in the police force and her power as a minister of the government, to try to intimidate and silence the outrage of a person – ought to give us all serious pause.
If she’d been successful, Alison Apap and her sister Valerie would have found themselves penalised for the misfortune of having crossed paths with a cabinet minister. Caruana decided to use her power and her connections to mute them, to punish them for having dared share their side of the story, and to frighten them into never speaking up again.
This was a sordid little story of betrayal and revenge, very likely a tragedy for the woman concerned, but, were it not for the fact that it involves a minister, still a very personal travail and not something any well brought up person would gossip about. However, the fact that it is a minister, and a minister who’s already proven several times that she lacks the requisite judgment for the job, makes it very significant indeed.
Perhaps the much-maligned de Sade was right about humankind; perhaps vice is indeed the ultimate victor in this world gone mad. A world where a European government is condemned by MEPs for getting involved in the assassination of a trail-blazing journalist, where the electorate is deceived and conned by the very representatives they entrusted the country to, and where ministers resort to using the police to bully and harass their detractors.
Caruana’s shenanigans with the police may be a minor sideshow in the circus that is modern-day Malta, but we’d be wise to sit up and take note. We have, after all, been here before.