Protesters will finally take to the streets of Valletta once again tomorrow, following a three-week lull over the Christmas holidays. In case you took a break from the news over the festive season, here’s a quick rundown of all the crazy stories that emerged since the last protest on December 13th.
In a court testimony, police inspector Keith Arnaud confirmed for the first time that the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri is under investigation for murder and a litany of other offences.
After Schembri failed to show up in court as a witness in a Constitutional Case, Judge Lawrence Mintoff issued a warrant for his arrest. Lovin Malta was at the scene when police officers and court officials showed up at Schembri’s house to drag him to court. He testified the next day, where he attempted to negate the testimonies of three other witnesses: murder suspect Yorgen Fenech, middleman Melvin Theuma and Schmebri’s own doctor Adrian Vella.
On Christmas Eve, Lovin Malta revealed that Yorgen Fenech gifted Joseph Muscat an expensive Bvlgari watch in December 2014. Muscat first said he would not engage with the story but he later confirmed receiving the watch and made a strange claim to deflect the accusation. He claimed such watches had also been given to the EU accession team, something they all denied. Muscat also claimed he donated the watch to the State though no verifiable documentation has been published. Times of Malta later reported that Fenech also gave Muscat a second watch on another occasion.
Lovin Malta also revealed that Fenech accompanied Muscat and Schembri to the wedding of Ali Sadr, the chairman of the now defunct Pilatus Bank, which was at the centre of various money laundering allegations. The three men stayed at the same hotel in a trip that was allegedly paid for by Sadr.
It turns out that Fenech was also a guest of honour at Muscat’s intimate birthday party in Girgenti last February. Fenech gifted Muscat three expensive bottles of Petrus wine. Lovin Malta later reported that no Cabinet members were invited to the party which was reserved for just his 50-70 closest friends. This raised questions as to why the Prime Minister chose to invite the man he knew was the prime suspect in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Muscat originally strongly downplayed his friendship with Fenech. We now know the Prime Minister was not only privy to the investigation of a close friend but even decided on whether to give him a Presidential Pardon.
After claiming he needed to stay in office until at least January 12th, Muscat spent most of his time travelling. He first visited the Vatican with his family and then went on an official visit to Bethlehem. Later he surprised the country by flying to Dubai, the centre of corruption allegations involving his government. He flew First Class and took his entire family but only spent three days there, before heading to London where he met an international lawyer. Schembri was also given permission to go on holiday to Italy and it is not yet known if he has returned or since been questioned.
Thanks to the publication of the full Egrant inquiry, we found out that Schembri was particularly annoyed at Daphne Caruana Galizia when she wrote about his health problems. These were his words: “I think this person has caused a lot of harm to my personal life and my family life… I am living proof of her lies, you see… It’s not because I want to squabble, I don’t mind, but she has crossed the limit… I don’t know how to hate but I have no respect for people like that…”
On December 27th, Muscat was given crowned the dubious award of ‘Man of the Year in Organised Crime and Corruption’ by international crime watchdog association The Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project. “Under Muscat’s leadership,” the OCCRP said, “criminality and corruption have flourished — and in many cases gone unpunished — in the small Mediterranean archipelago of Malta, creating an environment that led to the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, investigators and government critics say.”
On December 18th, a huge majority within the European Parliament called on Muscat to quit immediately. The entire Socialist group also voted against Muscat, except for Malta’s Labour Party MEPs. Despite this, Muscat ignored their call and stayed on as Prime Minister, only to go on holiday four times in a row while ignoring several questions from the press.
In a court testimony, police inspector Keith Arnaud revealed that Schembri told the police he lost his phone. Arnaud also said police could not locate it. This sparked a huge reaction online, with even the Labour Party’s CEO mocking the unbelievable claim of Schembri, who had meanwhile been photographed several times using his phone. Keep in mind that the police located phones of other murder suspects from the seabed and also managed to clone Caruana Galizia’s phone when it was destroyed in the car bomb.
Lovin Malta revealed that police investigators have yet to conduct a search of Schembri’s office at the Labour Party headquarters despite him still being under investigation for the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
Doctor Adrian Vella passed on a note from Schembri to Fenech which instructed Fenech to pin the murder on Economy Minister Chris Cardona. This was confirmed under oath by police inspector Keith Arnaud. Cardona eventually demanded Schembri’s dismissal from the Labour Party but Schembri pre-empted it by resigning, after having boasted of giving the party 10 electoral victories.
After a group of activists stayed overnight to protect the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial site, the government finally stopped clearing it. The site has remained in tact till today. A small victory for activists and a rare silver lining in this entire ordeal.
Bonus: Constant power cuts
Two days before Christmas, Malta suffered a nationwide blackout which was the second in a matter of weeks. A ship’s anchor was blamed for damaging the interconnector in Sicily and smaller power cuts followed for days. This raised further questions about Labour’s electoral pledge to fix Malta’s energy sector through the building of a new power station that is part owned by Fenech, the man accused with complicity in the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
Will you be attending tomorrow’s protest and concert against corruption in Valletta?