Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was targeted by popular UK tabloid The Daily Mail, this time over his links to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Azerbaijan’s dictator Ilham Aliyev.
The Daily Mail’s feathers were ruffled when Blair jetted down to Malta for a quick visit with Muscat – with the pro-Brexit paper quick to point out that both men have expressed strong opinions against the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“To conspiracy-minded Eurosceptics back home, the visit provided yet more evidence that Blair is on manoeuvres to thwart Brexit,” the paper wrote. “The Maltese PM is vehemently opposed to the UK leading the EU, intends to do all he can to prevent it happening, and last month made headlines by saying in an interview that he was ‘seeing encouraging signs’ that ‘Brexit will not happen’.
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) August 12, 2017
“Muscat’s comments appeared part of a co-ordinated PR offensive: at almost exactly the same time, a host of Remainer politicians came out with startlingly similar statements, including Blair – who said public opinion is ‘moving’ in a way that makes him ‘think it’s possible now that Brexit does not happen”.
The Daily Mail noted both Blair and Muscat are close to Azerbaijan’s dictator Ilham Aliyev – Blair has lobbied for oil companies close to the regime, while Azerbaijan’s state-oil company Socar is part of a consortium running the new LNG power station in Delimara.
Moreover, it noted blogger-journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has alleged the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat is secretly the owner of an offshore Panama company Egrant, that had emerged in the Panama Papers scandal along with two similar companies owned by tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Caruana Galizia has claimed the Azerbaijani dictator’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva used a bank in Dubai to transfer over a million euro to Egrant – a claim Joseph Muscat has decried as “the biggest lie in Maltese political history”.
The proof of the kickbacks was allegedly held in a safe at the Ta’ Xbiex-based PIlatus Bank and seen by a Russian bank employee, who has since returned home to Russia warning she was threatened while in Malta.
The Daily Mail goes on to recount the fallout of the allegations in Malta, including how they prompted Muscat to call a snap election.
Yet it is here that the paper’s lack of knowledge of the Maltese political scene becomes obvious. Although Muscat won a record victory over the Nationalist Party, the UK paper said that he “squeaked home” in the election and that a brief video endorsement by Tony Blair played at a Labour mass meeting was an “important propaganda tool”.