Updated following clarifications received from Michael and Edward Zammit Tabona.
Yesterday morning, I watched a live feed from Balluta Bay: a small group of young people from Moviment Graffitti sitting on the jetty to stop Zammit Tabonas’ goons tearing up the seabed and destroying a bay Maltese people have swum in for generations.
Michael Zammit Tabona, who ran the family business before his nephew Edward took over, has been posturing and posing around Malta for as long as I can remember. His Fortina Hotel, Captain Morgan cruise boats, Naxxar mayorship and Football Club presidency giving him a sort of cachet with people who’d otherwise detest him for his background. The sort of people who just don’t get why you don’t liken a German Chancellor in 2020 to Hitler if you’re an ambassador to Finland.
Over the decades, he’s shown scant evidence of that background. A strutting braggart despite his diminutive stature, there’s always been something of a menacing air about him. I never had very much to do with him, but I remember him once approaching a company I worked for to propose a publishing project: he suggested we produce a publication promoting Montenegro as an ideal location for FDI investors.
This would have been around late 2008. I knew little about the recently independent state, bar a curious fact that had puzzled me for years. Montenegro, despite not being a member of the European Union, decided in 2002 to unilaterally adopt the euro. There was no discussion with the European Central Bank, no adherence to the strict conditions for adoption that other countries, including Malta, were obliged to demonstrate. They just decided to start using the euro as their de facto currency.
There always seemed to be an element of brutishness to that move: just ignore the inconvenience of the ECB, bypass entirely the long and cumbersome process of first gaining EU accession and then, years later, and only after having satisfied the many stringent criteria that come along with it, being permitted to adopt the euro. Bugger that, Montenegro thought. We’ll just start using it. Let them try and stop us. And despite the ECB’s discomfort and irritation, that’s exactly what they did.
Add to that the alarming news reports of mafia-style gang wars where rival crooks were gunned down in broad daylight, sitting at café tables in the street, I got the general feeling that Montenegro was disturbingly lawless, hugely corrupt and had a police force who could rival modern-day Malta’s for ineptitude and complicity with criminals: clearly, I wanted nothing to do with a publication to promote Montenegro as an investment location.
Montenegro is still not a member of the EU, though it applied to join in 2008. The main sticking points remain, unsurprisingly, corruption, organised crime and media freedom. And the country has yet to solve the 2004 murder of editor Dusko Jovanovic in 2004 or the 2018 shooting of journalist Olivera Lakic. The earliest date it’s seen finally joining the bloc is 2025.
It should not have surprised me in the least that Michael Zammit Tabona appeared quite unfazed by the above; his restaurant manager, Tiziano Mousu, was about to be appointed Honorary Consul to Montenegro despite having very little, if any, visible connection to the country. And, if the impression I’d always got of Zammit Tabona was correct, he’d fit very comfortably into a world where those with money or power simply took what they wanted, when they wanted it.
The opaque arrangements that somehow see Zammit Tabona, or his alter ego Mousu, hovering just out of sight on the periphery of proceedings, would have been enough to give anyone a bad taste in their mouth, but the Zammit Tabona family’s Captain Morgan involvement, with others, in the shameful detention of hundreds of human beings out at sea, in the middle of the worst pandemic for a century, must go down in history as one of Malta’s, and the family’s, most despicable and revolting acts.
So, for a company happy to rake in a reported €3,000 a day to imprison men, women and children on small, totally unsuitable boats intended only to potter around the coastline, someone clearly totally unconcerned about the human suffering and anguish caused, it’s no wonder that the idea of ripping out the soul of Balluta Bay, depriving thousands of their right to continue to use the foreshore and waters of the bay, doesn’t bother them one jot. Not when there’s profit to be made. The company under Edward is forging ahead, determined to follow the path set by its brash, brutish former chief.
Appeals still being heard? Why would they care? The permit to carry out the works in order to provide a ferry service from a pontoon in the bay had originally been recommended for refusal, yet astonishingly, the Planning Authority approved it. Residents of the area, environmental groups, incensed citizens throughout Malta were outraged, the resistance was enormous. All ignored. All tossed aside as if they were meaningless.
There’s a common thread running through all the sordid characters in the gangland drama being played out in Malta since 2013. Each of the protagonists is entirely bereft of any sort of conscience, that instinct that stops most of us from doing harm to others.
Each of the protagonists is eschewing any concept of right or wrong – though they understand it well enough to pay it lip service when they think it expedient – and each of the protagonists worships money, craves more and more wealth, above all else. And they’re completely unembarrassed about showing it, they seem to have no notion of how rapacious and venal they appear to normal people.
The cast of crooks is frighteningly large for such a small country, and they are all, of course, enabled and empowered by those who voted knowingly for a corrupt, thieving regime in 2017.
PL’s regular voters have long been a lost cause – they don’t care, and never have, if their MPs are corrupt, dishonest or even, heavens above, actual real-life bank robbers. But those ‘switchers’ have a lot to answer for. Balluta Bay – and the satisfying, for the time being at least, of Zammit Tabonas’ infinite avarice – is just a tiny puzzle piece in the crimes committed by PL’s kleptocracy, 2013-2021.
Michael Zammit Tabona, in the name of his family’s company, had been cultivating the Labour Party for a long time, since the mid-90s at least. He’s had payday after payday since his carefully cultivated friends came into power, and the company continues to reap unbelievable dividends, even after his departure.
Balluta, despite the valiant efforts of Moviment Graffitti and the futile fury of social media uproar, will be destroyed.
While the rest of us are weeping at the loss, the Zammit Tabonas will be rubbing their hands in glee. Bad apples contaminate any other fruit they touch: there’s no stopping the decay once it starts to spread.
Featured photo credit: Moviment Graffitti