BBC programme Newsnight interviewed Joseph Muscat last night as part of a feature on corruption in Malta and the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia…and the Maltese Prime Minister’s performance did not exactly go down well amongst viewers.
During the interview, veteran British journalist John Sweeney quizzed Muscat about Caruana Galizia’s famous story that the Prime Minister’s wife owns an offshore company, about his personal relationship with Azerbaijan’s ruler Ilham Aliyev and about Malta’s cash-for-citizenship scheme.
Sweeney’s perception of Muscat was clear – describing him as the “Artful Dodger of Europe” and the “passport-seller-in-chief”.
“Daphne Caruana Galizia was a very vociferous critic of many people and I might have been on the top of that list,” Muscat said. “Her murder doesn’t look good on me, I’m realistic about that. Besides her family, if there’s one person who has suffered from this assassination it’s us [the government] because of the long shadow that has been cast on the country.”
Muscat’s description of Caruana Galizia was markedly different from the language he had used prior to her assassination – when he frequently dismissed her as a liar and a personal friend of then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.
“I’m sorry, but Caruana Galizia’s issue was that she said things that were facts and that were cutting-edge, but then these were coupled with things that were false,” he said when asked about the late journalist’s story that his wife owned an offshore Panama company into which Ilham Aliyev’s daughter had funnelled $1 million.
“I don’t know if she was part of this invention or whether she was fed the story by her whistleblower or someone else, and maybe it looked too good not to be true because it fit the narrative some people were pushing. I’m in an uncomfortable situation, because I have to criticise someone who has been brutally killed, but I hope we’re not in a situation where we take everything that is written on social media as fact.”
Sked point blank if his wife owned the Egrant company, Muscat responded: “It is impossible to hide a million dollars, or even a hundred, in a bank”. He also reiterated he would resign if a shred of evidence is found to back up the story
Several other Twitter users, many from the Untied Kingdom, had harsh words for Muscat’s performance.
“When questioned on corruption, Malta’s Prime Minister said ‘I would resign if there was a shred of proof!’ << Freudian slip there, Prime Minister…surely you would ‘resign if there was a shred of truth’,” one person tweeted.
“So Joseph Muscat says that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s reporting didn’t have a ‘shred of truth’ concerning money laundering in Malta, but she was killed by a bomb in the car she was driving because of gossip? Mr Muscat, your days as a liar are numbered,” another person wrote.
Shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi, who was also interviewed by Newsnight along with PN MEP Roberta Metsola, former police inspector Jonathan Ferris and journalist-blogger Manuel Delia, also laid into Muscat.
“Great ad for foreign direct investment towards making Malta he Artful Dodger of Europe courtesy of Joseph Muscat,” he said, while posting critical tweets.
Great ad for FDI towards making #Malta the Artful Dodger of Europe courtesy of @JosephMuscat_JM on @BBCNewsnight @johnsweeneyroar @mcaruanagalizia @ICIJorg @b_obermayer @ACaruanagalizia @pcaruanagalizia pic.twitter.com/1CmhhRhQIo
— Jason Azzopardi (@AzzopardiJason) January 8, 2018
Caruana Galizia’s sons also criticised Muscat’s performance, with Andrew Caruana Galizia describing the feature as “terrifying” and his brother Paul urging people to “watch and weep”.
— Andrew Caruana Galizia (@ACaruanagalizia) January 9, 2018
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) January 8, 2018
— Paul Caruana Galizia (@pcaruanagalizia) January 9, 2018