Police are refusing to say whether they have opened an investigation into Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis following revelations that he secured jobs for his constituents with Yorgen Fenech, others in private industry, and the public sector.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, police said that they were not in a position to confirm, citing confidentiality clauses. However, sources have told Lovin Malta that police are looking into Zammit Lewis and his connections to Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect, Yorgen Fenech.
It was recently revealed that Zammit Lewis would reach out to Fenech to provide jobs for his supporters. The requests go back to as early as 2014, while the most recent exchange was in September 2019, shortly after Zammit Lewis had returned to Cabinet as European Affairs Minister.
Fenech was arrested in connection with the murder just two months later. However, he was already known to be the owner of 17 Black, the Dubai-based company linked to alleged government corruption, at the time.
Zammit Lewis has not denied the claims, instead insisting that it is “duty to help wherever possible within the limits of what is right”.
Sources have suggested that police may be looking at claims of trading-in-influence following the revelation.
Trading in influence, in simple terms, is the illegal practice of using one’s influence in government or connections with persons in authority to obtain favours or preferential treatment.
While it may not technically refer to any specific act of corruption, it bears a stench of practices that de-legitimise the entire democratic process.
Malta expressly legislates for the offence in the country’s criminal code. Article 121A clearly outlines that anyone found guilty of trading in influence is subject to a three to six-year prison sentence, while a corporate identity will be subject to a fine ranging from €20,000 to €2,000,000.
Zammit Lewis would not be the first to face a trading-in-influence investigation since Fenech’s arrest and seizure of his mobile phone and its contents. In January 2021, Malta’s former gaming authority CEO Heathcliff Farrugia was charged over alleged trading in influence with Yorgen Fenech.
It remains to be seen whether any further action will be taken. There exist over 700 messages with Zammit Lewis between January 2019 and October 2019.
Zammit Lewis has been under fire in recent weeks over his relationship with Fenech and messages exchanged between the two.
Earlier this month, the Nationalist Party filed an urgent no-confidence motion in Zammit Lewis after messages he had sent Fenech, mocking attempts by the Opposition to have 17 Black investigated, were revealed in the press.
Zammit Lewis was also revealed to have referred to Labour supporters as fools (Ġaħan) in another exchange with Fenech. The two are understood to have exchanged over 700 messages in the months between January and September 2019.
Responding to the Times’ questions, Zammit Lewis said that as a “politician and representative of the people” he often tried to help constituents find employment “irrespective of whether in the public or private sector”. He insisted it was a normal practice among politicians.
Last year Lovin Malta revealed that Zammit Lewis and former Prime Minister had holidayed at one of Fenech’s hotels in France in 2014. Both have failed to prove that they paid for the trip themselves, despite pledging to do so.
Despite calls for his resignation, Prime Minister Robert Abela has so far stood by Zammit Lewis.
Should Edward Zammit Lewis resign?