The publication of the conclusions of the public inquiry into the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, carried out by a yet unknown number of conspirators that include accused murderer and WhatsApp buddy of many a Labour minister, Yorgen Fenech, has brought prime minister Robert Abela a host of problems, some forseeable, others less so – at least to those of us on the outside.
Shamed, humiliated, disgraced, run-out-of-town former prime minister Joseph Muscat is one of those problems.
The mafia usually uses a dead fish to warn someone that they’re in their sights. The hot weather may have made sticking to tradition less attractive, or perhaps this particular threat, though directed at a very specific individual, was also designed for a wider audience.
But Muscat, the man who conned an entire country out of its money, its reputation and its very livelihood, chose to issue his barely veiled menaces through The Times of Malta.
There’s an argument to be made that in using The Times, Muscat was still metaphorically sticking to tradition, but that’s a discussion for another day. The once-illustrious institution that kept its presses going throughout the Second World War, that went to print even after being ransacked by the Labour hordes of the 1970s, has long lost its lustre and its crown.
There’s a very good reason Muscat chose to give his first interview in years to The Times: the newspaper was his biggest (unwitting?) ally and most sharply-calibrated missile in the scheme to take power in 2013 and set in motion the criminal ‘roadmap’ to riches that he and his sordid band of ‘childhood friends’ cooked up as they waited, drooling in the wings, the five long years from 2008 to 2013.
The most corrupt man of 2019, though he deserves that title on a yearly basis from 2013 onwards, proved yesterday that like all the most despicable mafia bosses, he may be out of sight most of the time, but he’s most certainly not out of touch. And he’ll emerge from time to time, from whatever seedy Dubai business deals he’s cooking up during his exile, to remind his coven that he’s still holding the whip as tightly as he ever did.
When Sicilian mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Toto ‘The Beast” Riina was finally arrested in 1993 after a quarter of a century on the run, having murdered at least 150 people and ordered the assassinations of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, many of his fellow Corleone townspeople lamented his absence. They wailed that he’d kept the peace in the town, that everyone had jobs when he was around, that his presence in town had improved their lives.
His successor, Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after 43 years on the run, had been living almost all that time in a farmhouse in the self-same town of Corleone, fed, watered and ministered to by a host of faithful Corleonesi, who protected him from the law for almost half a century.
Muscat’s message to Robert Abela, delivered via Malta’s very own version of the dead fish with the gaping mouth, was a crudely obvious invocation of his own access to the equivalent of those ignorant, misguided, and, ultimately, complicit, Corleonesi.
“I see a chorus of people supporting me,” Muscat said, “an unprecedented number of people supporting me….I still feel the people’s love.”
In one of the most bizarre responses from a former premier I have ever heard of, Muscat threatened to return to local politics “if people continue annoying me”.
If people continue annoying him? The puerile phrase, the spotty-teenager defiance, the open-ended, bullying ultimatum – at first glance, it seems ludicrous, in a vomit-inducing way. But the reality is far more sinister.
This unspeakable individual – who leapt into power with the same ethos as Ali Baba’s forty thieves, who created a government built on crime, corruption and wholescale looting of the nation’s wealth, who allowed a hate blogger to coordinate a campaign of vicious attacks on Caruana Galizia from within his own office and who did his utmost to block, scuttle and delay the start of the public inquiry in the first place – this man is using The Times to shoot a warning out to Robert Abela, first of all, but also, it seems to me, to anyone who might pose a threat to him.
Abela, however, is being openly threatened, by the man found guilty of enabling and facilitating the assassination of Malta’s leading journalist. Muscat may not have pulled the trigger himself, but per the public inquiry’s conclusions, as well as the European Parliament’s resolution, he is, effectively, responsible for Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Muscat made the slaying possible, by fostering a climate of hate towards Caruana Galizia, by installing puppet figures in the police, the courts, the prosecutors’ offices, by defending and supporting exposed money-launderers and bribe-takers, by endorsing deals so corrupt they make one’s hair stand on end.
The public inquiry conclusions, damning as they are, are no doubt part of the catalyst that spurred Muscat to pull The Times’ chain to demand the space to issue his Maltese-mafia-style fatwa to his cowering successor.
The report makes clear that, while the inquiry board itself had no power to make arrests or carry out the criminal investigations that should have been carried out years ago, the government and the police must finally act.
This means Abela has been pushed into a very tight corner. If he fails to take the actions recommended by the inquiry board, Malta’s goose is well and truly cooked on the international stage.
With the European Parliament and the FATF, as well as a host of other bodies, scrutinising every move his cabinet makes, or fails to make, brushing off the monumentous conclusions of the public inquiry would be akin to picking up a pen himself to cross out the word “grey” and insert the word “black” in its stead.
Ignoring the public inquiry’s report would be national suicide. I almost wrote national hara-kiri, but that implies an element of honour. This type of suicide would be as far removed from honour as Abela is from intelligent life.
But if he does start to implement those recommendations? That’s where Muscat’s interview comes in. Abela is being reminded that the succubus on his back is there to stay. Courtesy of the one reliable hot-weather-substitute dead fish Muscat has always been able to count on.
It’s also likely that the long-delayed indictment of accused murderer Yorgen Fenech for his part in the diabolical plot to kill Caruana Galizia earlier this week played at least some part in the artful dodger’s decision to issue his public menace to Abela.
Fenech’s statements to the police about Muscat’s closest confidante, accused financial criminal Keith Schembri, are the crack in the door into which any self-respecting policeman would be shoving his size nines and bursting open.
If I were Robert Abela, this is what I’d be hearing in Muscat’s venomous words: Remember who put you where you are now, remember that my people “love” me, remember whatever it is you too knew, or did, as you sat at my side during my six-year crime spree, my six years as the publicly acknowledged ‘boss of bosses’ of Malta’s pseudo-socialist mafia paradise. And above all, remember that I’ve not gone away, I’m only 47 and my history hasn’t been written yet.
The word on the street is that Abela’s stopped taking Muscat’s calls. But, as Muscat promptly reminded him, it’s too late for that. As the old saying goes, he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon. Abela’s choice to forego any spoon at all sealed his fate years ago.