Government consultant Robert Musumeci has spent the past few hours on national television repeating the Prime Minister’s mantra that when it comes to the story of 17 Black, we should wait until the allegations are confirmed.
Otherwise we would be living in a world where anyone can make up an allegation against their political adversary and force a resignation.
“I don’t think Nationalist MEP David Casa should resign just because a former aide claims he has taken cocaine,” argued Musumeci.
But what exactly are the allegations in the case of 17 Black?
That the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Minister Konrad Mizzi opened secret companies in Panama a few days after sweeping to power in 2013?
No, that’s a fact that they reluctantly admitted after they were exposed.
So what is the allegation?
That these companies were destined to receive €150,000 per month from two companies in Dubai?
No, that’s a fact that was outlined by Nexia BT in emails to Mossack Fonseca that were part of the Panama Papers cache of documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca. Check out the email here and remember that nobody has contested the document.
So what is the allegation that the Prime Minister and Dr Musumeci are talking about?
Perhaps it’s the latest information that one of these Dubai companies, 17 Black, is owned by Yorgen Fenech, co-owner of the new gas power station. But that’s also a fact that was confirmed through detailed documentary evidence by Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit and backed up by Reuters, the world’s biggest news organisation. And not denied by Mr Fenech himself, of course.
So, again, what is the allegation we are waiting for an inquiry to establish?
That the €150,000 monthly transfers destined for Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were actually made? No, because it’s irrelevant whether the money was ever transferred and in what way. When it comes to politics, a setup designed for kickbacks is more than enough to merit a resignation. And when it comes to criminal law, the attempt to launder illicit-gotten money, is deemed to be the exact same thing as the complete act itself: punishable by up to 18 years in jail.
What’s also not an allegation is that instead of giving detailed press conferences rubbishing these “allegations” – as they did in the past on other matters – Schembri, Mizzi and Muscat are literally hiding from the press.
When it comes to 17 Black, there really is no allegation. Only facts.
There is also no inquiry because Muscat, Mizzi, Schembri and four of their associates are blocking it in court.
So all that Muscat and Musumeci say about rule of law, waiting for inquiries, and not just believing allegations, is just another act of buying time and delaying justice for as long as possible.
There are of course some allegations hanging over Schembri’s head, which make the 17 Black story all the more damning. Allegations of corruption involving Times of Malta’s ex-boss Adrian Hillman, allegations of kickbacks involving the sale of passports, and allegations related to Pilatus Bank.
For every allegation, there’s an equal and opposite reaction of spin. And the spin is helped by the fact that an allegation made against the Prime Minister and his wife with regard to Egrant was rubbished in the published conclusions of Magistrate Aaron Bugeja.
But remember, 17 Black is not an allegation. It’s a fact. A fact that confirms our worst fears about the relationship key government members have (and maybe have always had) with big business: that Malta is for sale as long as you’re ready to pay the elected decision-makers.
This is not pro-business. It’s anti-business. It’s the sort of thing that repels serious business people and erodes our economic potential. It’s despicable and it must be put to an end before it gets even worse, though it’s difficult to imagine how.