“It’s not Keith Schembri who is being investigated, it’s 17 Black,” says the unrecognisable Prime Minister as he shifts the goalposts so far off the pitch we’re now playing in no-man’s land.
In a country dying to sell citizenship to robots, I guess it’s no surprise that our Prime Minister seems to be contemplating a situation where a shell company is charged in criminal court and sent to jail for money laundering instead of the people using it.
This has become ridiculous. No wonder protesters need to say ‘fuck’ so much these days.
So first Muscat lowers the bar of political responsibility, then proceeds to bring out a shovel and start digging towards the epicentre of the absurd.
In case you’re lost, this was Joseph Muscat’s actual response for why he won’t get rid of his chief of staff even now that he’s officially part of a criminal investigation by the police. This, despite Muscat’s specific assurance a few months back that he would fire Schembri on the spot should this ever take place.
Now that it’s happened – some brave police officers went as far as to ask a magistrate to help them preserve evidence on this criminal investigation – Muscat says it doesn’t count.
Why? Because it’s the Dubai company 17 Black being investigated not Keith Schembri.
What’s he saying exactly? That we’re investigating a company and not the people who used it? You can’t investigate a theft or a murder without investigating the main suspects.
If 17 Black was used for corruption, somebody had to be on the receiving end. And that’s exactly what the published documents seem to indicate.
“What’s he saying exactly? That we’re investigating a company and not the people who used it? You can’t investigate a theft or a murder without investigating the main suspects.”
Surely the only other explanation to Muscat’s statement is even worse: that 17 Black is being investigated but Keith Schembri – the only player who confirmed knowledge of 17 Black – has somehow been cordoned out of the investigation, protected by the police in collusion with Muscat, in what would be a clear case of obstruction of justice.
An investigation into 17 Black cannot possibly exclude Keith Schembri.
The only reason we know about 17 Black is because it was listed in forms to open bank accounts for Schembri and his partner in crime Minister Konrad Mizzi. It was one of two companies scheduled to pay €150,000 per month into the secret Panama companies which Schembri and Mizzi opened days after the election.
As he did with his Panama company before, Schembri failed to disclose his connection to 17 Black until he was forced to do so. And when he couldn’t deny the connection any longer he said something vague about business plans, as if it’s normal for a chief of staff to be doing secretive business in offshore jurisdictions.
The criminal investigation can obviously be widened to Minister Konrad Mizzi (who strangely still denies knowledge of 17 Black), the company’s actual owner Yorgen Fenech (who has yet to deny ownership) and Schembri’s accountant Brian Tonna who filed the bank opening forms.
But it most definitely can’t exclude Keith Schembri. He must be investigated, even if he is later found to be innocent.
“The news that an investigation is underway should fill us with hope that despite the criticism levelled at them for years, there are some brave police officers daring to do their job.”
The news that an investigation is underway should fill us with hope that despite the criticism levelled at them for years, there are some brave police officers daring to do their job.
But rather than encouraging them, Muscat seems hell-bent on doing the contrary: aggressively defending Schembri at any given opportunity.
The man elected on a platform of good governance is now accepting this ludicrous state of affairs: the top man in government – a person whose role involves influencing the appointment of police commissioners, judges and magistrates – kept in office despite a police investigation into what looks like a classic case of corruption, money laundering and bribery.
Joseph Muscat, who was justifiably outraged by a €500-a-week-raise ‘behind the public’s back’ by the previous government, is now dismissing a payment structure of €5,000-a-day not only designed behind the public’s back but even that of his own tax authorities.
I guess we soon have to start asking a new question now: will Schembri resign if he’s driven to court in handcuffs and charged with a crime? I won’t be surprised if Muscat jumps through new hoops to avoid giving an answer. And even if he does, he’ll probably find another way of defending Schembri when it actually happens.
Where is the shame wizard when you need him?