Yesterday evening social media sites lit up with excited chatter about a new PL billboard featuring PN MP and Caruana Galizia family lawyer, Jason Azzopardi.
Parodying a PN billboard unveiled just days before, starring PL justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis, bosom buddy of accused murderer Yorgen Fenech, who described his own voters as “Gahan” – the village idiot in Maltese folklore – and his Labour colleagues as “babies and posers,” the PL’s return salvo shows Azzopardi thanking “Yorgen” – a reference to the PN MP’s solicitation and acceptance of a free hotel stay in Tel Aviv from Ray Fenech, uncle of Yorgen.
The fact that the billboard says “Grazzi Yorgen” and not “Grazzi Ray” is clearly a deliberate ploy, but this changes nothing about the uncomfortable situation this sorry episode puts the entire PN into. The Party needs to wake up and realise this isn’t going away, no matter how scornfully they attempt to dismiss it as a minor infraction, not be compared with PL’s sins.
At a time when every shred of energy needs to be directed towards unpacking the momentous conclusions, and their implications, of the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, this kind of diversion is the last thing we need.
The reason the PN must get rid of any PN MPs who have compromised themselves and the Party with behaviour that lacks integrity or honesty is because those MPs are dragging the PN straight down into the gutter with the PL.
The PN is not “just as bad” as PL. But the few that have behaved shamefully are tainting all the others. Just as more than half of all PN voters turned their backs on the entire Party when Adrian Delia, with more skeletons in his cupboard than the ossuary at the Addolarata Cemetery, dug his heels in and refused to budge, they’ll do the same if others who’ve behaved dishonourably are allowed to stay.
The PN’s Edward Zammit Lewis billboard was sharp and effective. Any Labour voter, especially Zammit Lewis voters, will have to at least think twice about continuing to support an MP who holds them in such brazen contempt. While I’ve only seen newspaper reports of the shocking text messages between Zammit Lewis and Fenech, what has been published is enough to make one’s blood run cold.
The disrespect and disdain in which he clearly holds his electorate is a chilling echo of his behaviour as PL MP and minister. Seemingly bereft of any sense of right or wrong, Zammit Lewis maintained a close friendship with Yorgen Fenech even after he was exposed as being the owner of 17 Black, the Dubai company set up to act as the conduit for kickbacks stemming from the scandalous Electrogas deal to disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi and accused financial criminal and ex-OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Civil society NGO Repubblika held a protest two days ago outside the justice ministry in Valletta, demanding Zammit Lewis’ resignation in the wake of reports that the PL justice minister had exchanged some 700 messages with Fenech between January and October 2019.
Zammit Lewis claimed he’d ceased all contact with Fenech “well before” he was arrested for complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder. Fenech was arrested on November 20, 2019. To most people, a few weeks hardly qualifies as “well before,” but of course, this is a PL minister speaking, well versed in the arts of obfuscation, lies and slippery slides.
And Zammit Lewis’ slope may become a lot more slippery than he hopes. A recording of a female caller to Net radio, who claims to have been a Labour voter known to Zammit Lewis, has been doing the rounds the past couple of days. She’s furious at being labelled “gahan” and swears she’ll never vote for him, or the PL, again.
Impossible to tell whether it’s genuine or bogus, but her fury sounds real. Hubris, karma, call it what you will, it can’t come soon enough. Zammit Lewis has shown himself to be a despicable consorter and canoodler with a known corrupter of politicians and accused murderer.
Zammit Lewis, minister of justice, if you please. And, crucially, the minister with the most influence over when and how much of the recommendations from the public inquiry are carried out.
Clearly, there’s a conflict so discordant that it’s deafening. Repubblika rightly called for his immediate resignation; but resignation is far from enough for this character.
His dealings with Fenech, right from when Zammit Lewis claims they first met after 2014 when he was tourism minister, should be thoroughly investigated by the police. Fenech, after all, was doling out cash to ministers and officials like so much candy to kindergarten toddlers.
And Zammit Lewis, together with disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, reportedly holidayed together at a hotel owned by Fenech in France, a vacation that was allegedly part-financed by the hotelier himself, though the pair deny this.
So much of the corruption and criminality of this PL government has emerged by chance, via the Panama Papers stories; by determination, via subsequent reporting; or against the odds, as with Melvin Theuma’s recordings, that we can’t rest easy until Zammit Lewis and the rest of the PL’s criminal gang are properly investigated, exposed and kicked out of office and into the dock.
Instead, though, public attention is diverted away. The PL’s response to the Zammit Lewis billboard, despite the obviously deliberate ‘mistake’, succeeded in highlighting the mote in the PN’s eye and obscuring the beam in the PL’s.
Jason Azzopardi, in March 2017, in the middle of the PN electoral campaign, based almost entirely on the corruption around the Electrogas deal, rang up Ray Fenech, uncle of Yorgen Fenech and shareholder in Electrogas, to ask for a “help” in finding a hotel room in Tel Aviv.
Ray Fenech has not, so far, been implicated in the murder of Caruana Galizia, but as a shareholder in Electrogas, he was very definitely implicated in alleged massive corruption.
Then-PN leader Simon Busuttil staked the PN’s entire prospect on the battle against the rampant corruption in the PL government, making it the cornerstone of the 2017 electoral campaign and pledging that a PN government, if elected, would probe, prosecute and punish all those involved.
And in the middle of that desperate campaign to boot out the crooks who’d hijacked the country, PN MP Jason Azzopardi rings up one of the main targets of his Party’s campaign to request a freebie.
The PN equivalents of Zammit Lewis’ ‘gahan’ tie themselves into knots trying to defend Azzopardi’s actions. The social media comments last night were alight with incandescent furies spitting venom at anyone who didn’t condemn the PL billboard as evil – while concurrently cackling with delight at the wit of the PN version.
The hypocrisy is revolting. The reality is that there is no possible justification or explanation for what Azzopardi did, and especially not at that crucial moment in time for Malta. The fact that he later lied about it, denied it categorically, and was then proven to have lied about it, just exacerbates the seriousness of what he did.
The PN needs to get its house in order fast. Weak links like Azzopardi, Delia, Kristy Debono and Herman Schiavone – who took a begging cup to Yorgen Fenech after he’d been exposed as the owner of 17 Black – can have no place in its ranks.
The billboard wars being waged over Zammit Lewis vs Azzopardi are yet another signal that unless the Party acts fast, it’s simply going to keep getting tripped up in its own can of worms – leaving the PL’s nest of poisonous vipers free to flourish and multiply, completely unchecked.