Former PN MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has urged Malta not to sign away too many rights to the United States amidst reports that a controversial SOFA military deal could be in the offing.
“I am convinced that our government would not want down to go down the path that could lead to a ‘Harry Dunn’ type of situation,” Pullicino Orlando told Lovin Malta, referring to the case of a British teenager who was killed last year in a traffic accident outside a US airbase in the UK.
The suspect, who is the wife of a US diplomat, escaped prosecution in the UK thanks to a “secret agreement” between the UK and the US, which has since been amended.
Pullicino Orlando, who chairs Malta’s Council for Science and Technology, played a key role in Maltese politics the last time a major international deal was at the centre of controversy.
Once one of the PN’s rising stars, Pullicino Orlando lost favour within the party following a development scandal during the 2008 election campaign. After his re-election to Parliament, Pullicino Orlando warned that Richard Cachia Caruana, a top party strategist, had tried to force him out of the House, a move the MP described as “an attack on representative democracy”.
In 2012, Pullicino Orlando was presented with an opportunity to get back at Cachia Caruana after the Labour Opposition presented a motion calling for his resignation as Malta’s permanent EU representative.
Cachia Caruana found himself in the line of fire after Wikileaks published a cable which showed that he had lobbied for the reactivation of Malta’s membership in Partnership for Peace, a NATO programme aimed at rebuilding trust with former Soviet states.
Although the Labour Party said it had no intention to withdraw Malta from the Partnership for Peace (and in fact it didn’t after it got elected to government), it raised serious concerns about the way this deal was entered into without Parliament’s prior consent.
Pullicino Orlando crossed the floor and voted with the Opposition, insisting that this wasn’t out of revenge but a genuine concern that Cachia Caruana had bypassed Parliament.
However, the PN government only had a one-seat majority at the time, which meant Pullicino Orlando’s vote swayed the motion in favour of the Opposition and forced Cachia Caruana to resign.
Pullicino Orlando since formally switched his allegiance to the Labour Party, contesting the 2017 election on the PL ticket but failing to get elected.
Then in November 2019, Pullicino Orlando fell foul of ONE TV’s chairman Jason Micallef after he praised Daphne Caruana Galizia for her work in exposing corruption shortly after Yorgen Fenech was arrested in connection with the journalist’s assassination.
Now Malta has reportedly agreed to a deal which could have more serious implications than PfP, Pullicino Orlando said he is confident any agreement signed with the US would respect the nation’s constitutional neutrality.
“Any changes to these requirements would require the support of over two thirds of the House of Representatives,” he noted.
Times of Malta recently reported that Malta’s Cabinet has agreed to back a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a deal which would grant the US a measure of jurisdictional autonomy over the behaviour of its military personnel on the island.
The exact nature of this alleged deal is unknown but Malta has been resisting the USA’s calls for a SOFA deal for several years out of concern that it will impact the island’s constitutional neutrality.
According to Times of Malta, there’s an element of horse trading involved in this proposal, with Malta agreeing to a SOFA in return for US support ahead of Moneyval’s upcoming crucial review of the country’s anti-money laundering regime.
However, Prime Minister Robert Abela has insisted Moneyval’s review and a potential SOFA are completely separate issues and that any agreement would respect Malta’s constitutional neutrality.
Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo also said Malta “is no closer to signing an agreement with the United States of America or NATO than over the past years”.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper flew to Malta yesterday for bilateral talks with Abela, about which the US and Maltese governments issued a vague joint statement.
This statement didn’t mention a SOFA deal, but said Abela and Esper discussed the strengthening of bilateral relations between Malta and the USA, migration challenges, and cooperation between the Armed Forces of Malta and the US military.
Meanwhile, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has warned that a potential SOFA will be challenged in court as it would likely be in breach of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Malta ratified in 2002.