Veteran BBC journalist John Sweeney has made a name for himself around the world with his investigations into North Korea, the Kremlin and the Church of Scientology.
However, in Malta he is best known for an interview he carried out with Joseph Muscat last January, in which he described the Maltese Prime Minister as the “Artful Dodger of Europe” and the “passport-seller-in-chief”.
That interview remains the most recent one Muscat has carried out with a journalist from an independent media house, with several subsequent requests from local and foreign media houses falling on deaf ears.
“I was the last troublemaker who interviewed Joseph Muscat,” Sweeney said, with a cheeky grin on his face, as he replayed parts of the interview to a large audience in Floriana last night during a lecture organised by Occupy Justice and blogger Manuel Delia.
The audience roared in sarcastic laughter as Muscat said Malta’s sale-of-citizenship scheme is the most successful in Europe, and boos and groans filled the room when he said that, besides Caruana Galizia’s family, he was the person who suffered most from the journalist’s assassination.
“The Prime Minister’s brows are furrowed, it means he’s lying,” one audience member said, as the clip turned to Muscat’s relationship with the ruling family of Azerbaijan.
“His mouth is moving, it means he’s lying,” his friend quipped back.
“I have a dark fantasy; I dream of what it would be like to be Kurt Farrugia,” Sweeney said, as some members of the audience passed comments about the OPM communications chief’s height. “If I were Kurt, my advice to the Prime Minister would be to tell him that he smiles too much.”
Sweeney said that Farrugia hadn’t reacted well to the interview, indeed claiming he was “unnecessary hostile” to the Prime Minister.
“Jesus, Kurt, how could you?” Sweeney said sarcastically as he showed the audience what him being hostile really looks like through an old video clip of himself screaming at a Scientology member.
“As I understand, Muscat is not yet a member of the Church of Scientology,” Sweeney said. “However, the Church of Muscatology has a certain ring about it. Could a cult in Malta be possible? You know better than I.”
The BBC journalist pulled no punches in his denunciation of the Maltese government, noting that several libel cases against Caruana Galizia remain open and that Cleansing Department workers keep sweeping up tributes to the late journalist from in front of the boarded-up Great Siege Monument. He warned that this saga reminded him of when the Kremlin removed a shrine to Boris Nemtsev 192 times before eventually caving in and allowing the assassinated political a memorial in the centre of Moscow.
People crowded the lecture room in Floriana to listen to John Sweeney
“The Maltese government can bin the flowers, trash the photographs and snuff out the candles but it can never kill the light that Daphne shone,” he said. “Not allowing people to grieve at a shrine doesn’t only look bad but makes it seem as though they’re trying to hush up a murder.”
Sweeney also referred to reports that Economy Minister Chris Cardona had met murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio at least twice – at a pub and at a stag party.
“The Economy Minister has reportedly been seen with one of the suspected killers before and after the killing,” he said. “Malta, this doesn’t look good. Joseph Muscat might say journalists should give equal weight to all sides of a case for the sake of impartiality, but we didn’t cover World War II impartially. The concept that should be adhered to is due impartiality. When evidence starts stacking up, journalists can make a call, and if see a journalist murdered in cold blood and what looks like a government cover-up, we can call that too. What on earth is Chris Cardona doing associating with Alfred Degiorgio and why is Joseph Muscat still defending him?”
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi addresses the lecture room
At one point, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi raised his hand and referred to Cardona’s request for the Speaker to find him in breach of parliamentary privilege over a tweet which strongly insinuated the Economy Minister was chummy with murderers.
“I didn’t refer to anyone in particular that tweet and yet Cardona claimed it was referring to him. I asked him how on earth he knew who I was referring to. Is it a case of Lady Macbeth stating that all the water in the world couldn’t wash the blood off her hands?”
Sweeney’s lecture was the first of a series of ‘Freedom Lectures’ being organised by Occupy Justice and Manuel Delia this month on occasion of the anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s murder. The other speakers have yet to be announced, but their lectures will focus on free expression and civic rights.