If there’s one person who has a lot of questions to answer right now, it’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. But he’s been refusing interviews from the local press since last year, so we had to make do with our imagination. Here’s how we think an interview with Muscat would look like if he had accepted our repeated invitations.
CP: Hi, thanks for finally accepting to be interviewed by us.
JM: You’re welcome. It’s good to see you. You’ve lost some weight since we last met.
CP: Thanks for noticing. I credit the weightloss to all the months I’ve spent chasing you for an interview…
JM: Ha! Some journalists seem to expect an interview every week. If I did that I wouldn’t have time to actually do any work. Do you see Theresa May doing an in-depth interview every week? Or Donald Trump?
CP: But it’s been almost two years since you’ve sat down with Lovin Malta. And I can’t even remember the last time you’ve been interviewed by anyone from the independent Maltese press. The only interview you’ve given this year was to the BBC’s John Sweeney.
JM: Yes, that’s right, where a 45-minute discussion was reduced to five minutes and everything was taken out of context. Why should politicians play ball with the press if we’re treated so unfairly every time?
CP: Surely as a former journalist you know better than that. An interview with a Prime Minister should be able to stand up to scrutiny even if it’s edited. And this was edited by one of the world’s must reputable news organisations, not Net News.
JM: Yes but one thing I’ve noticed in this whole saga is how deceptive foreign journalists can be, even sometimes without knowing it themselves. They don’t realise how politically biased their local informants can be and they sometimes don’t bother to learn the detail or the historical or political context of Malta. They see things in a vacuum.
CP: Thankfully you’re sitting down with a local journalist here, so maybe we should delve into some detail. On December 4th, you gave a press conference announcing the arrest of several men suspected of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia. At that press conference I had asked you whether you had any idea who the mastermind behind her assassination was and you said this: “I hope you understand that I really want to answer this question and I have very clear ideas in my mind about the question but if I answer it at this stage, when individuals have not yet been interrogated or charged in court, my answer might prejudice the case. So I hope in case of a prosecution I can come before you again and answer that question as well.” The interrogations happened and three men were charged in court. So what were the clear ideas you wanted to express five months ago?
JM: Look, I can sit here and speculate about who I think ordered the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. But whatever I say will be used against me. Some will accuse me of prejudicing the case, which could actually happen if I say one extra word. Some will criticise whatever I say as a smokescreen. On this case, I’ve learnt that the less said the better. Let’s allow the authorities to do their job.
CP: Do you think the authorities are doing a good job? It’s been five months since the arrest of the suspects and we seem to be nowhere closer to knowing who the mastermind was behind the attack.
JM: I think it’s unprecedented that within less than two months three suspects were charged. This, in a country with a history of so many murders sadly going unsolved, including high profile political murders like that of Raymond Caruana and Karin Grech. Obviously, these suspects are hardened criminals and only they know who sent them. So it’s going to take a lot longer for us to get this information from them. I remain hopeful that the police are doing their job in the most professional way possible.
CP: Doesn’t it worry you that there seems to be a police informant who tipped off the criminals before their arrest?
JM: What worries me is that the Caruana Galizia family have a parte civile lawyer from the Nationalist Party’s parliamentary group, Jason Azzopardi, who seems dead-set on prejudicing the case and making totally unfounded allegations under the protection of parliamentary immunity, just to further his own political agenda.
CP: Yes but according to leaked transcripts of the interrogation, the police inspectors specifically asked suspect George Degiorgio to say who tipped him off. They said he had his partner’s mobile number written on his hand, that several mobile phones were thrown in the sea and that the dog usually in the shed was not there. And yet, when the police responded to Jason Azzopardi’s allegations they claimed “no allegation was ever brought to the attention of the Malta Police on a possible leak into the murder investigation”. Doesn’t it worry you that the police force has issued a statement which contradicts information written in an interrogation transcript?
JM: I haven’t seen these transcripts and I question how they were leaked. But I also do not respond for the police. When you have a country with rule of law, the police are autonomous. If their statement contradicted their interrogation, or if there was a leak in the police force, you have to ask them to respond.
CP: That’s a weird thing to say because on several occasions you and your government officials do choose to speak on behalf of the police, such as when you announced the arrests were made. Or when your officials immediately began tweeting the rare denial issued by the Security Services that they had no knowledge of a plan to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia despite claims that they were tapping the phones of at least one of the suspects. When do you decide whether or not you can or cannot speak on behalf of the police?
JM: I think that’s unfair. It was my responsibility as Prime Minister to give an update of this high-profile investigation that generated interest all over the world. And I don’t know what you’re referring to about the Security Services. As far as I know they released the information. If my officials tweeted about it to spread the word, they had every right to.
CP: The fact remains that there is a serious whiff of a cover-up when suspects are questioned about being tipped off but the police statement officially says they never heard tipoff allegations. Isn’t it your responsibility as Prime Minister to make sure there isn’t a cover-up happening?
JM: I think you’re being irresponsible to be using the word cover-up in this case when we actually have three men arrested and accused of murder who were even refused bail. I think you, like too many people in this country, are failing to respect our institutions and their integrity. I do not share that sentiment.
CP: But the police force is an institution that since 2015 has clearly failed to even begin investigating transgressions within your Cabinet, despite substantiated allegations passed on by the very institution that’s meant to trigger these sort of inquiries: the FIAU. Isn’t it very convenient for you to say the institutions are working when they’re actually protecting your aides?
JM: Again, you keep talking about allegations that are being investigated by various magistrates and anything I say can prejudice those investigations. What I know is that one of these allegations refers to me directly and I know it’s a lie. So how can I believe the other allegations?
CP: Let’s forget about Egrant for a second. Surely you don’t still think the allegations against Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi are still unfounded. The Daphne Project has published clear evidence that their secret Panama companies were destined to receive serious amounts of money from another secret company in Dubai (17Black) that itself received dodgy transactions from Azerbaijan and somebody involved in the LNG project.
JM: I can’t comment on this without prejudicing the investigations.
CP: Yes, you can. You have no problem doing so when it’s about Egrant and you have no problem with Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi issuing their denials.
JM: They have every right to defend themselves.
CP: Yes but their statements contradict each other, which makes your perspective even more important. Keith Schembri is now claiming 17Black was just included in one of his business plans and Konrad Mizzi is sticking to his line that his super expensive Panama set up was created for his family’s estate planning. Who do you believe?
JM: Like I said, there is a magisterial inquiry and I don’t feel I should comment. If the inquiry finds any wrongdoing, they will be made to resign.
CP: But there isn’t even a magisterial inquiry on these points because you are trying to stop it from being opened. The inquiry was called by former PN leader Simon Busuttil and you are literally petitioning the court for it not to happen, alongside Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman.
JM: It’s Simon Busuttil who is delaying the magisterial inquiry from being opened.
CP: No, Simon Busuttil is trying to get the case heard by another member of the judiciary, instead of the husband of one of your MEPs.
JM: Again showing lack of faith in the independence of the judiciary. This is the problem here, first they ask for rule of law, then they want everything to be done according to their demands. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
CP: But the fact remains that there is no magisterial inquiry currently opened in the case of 17Black and yet you are saying you cannot comment because you would prejudice an inquiry. It’s been more than two weeks now and you have said nothing about the revelations of The Daphne Project even though they are incredibly damning and published all over the world. Why are you still protecting Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi from clear wrongdoing?
JM: They have provided their explanations.
CP: Back in 2013, you had expected former minister Austin Gatt to resign for failing to declare a Swiss bank account from the 1970s which he inherited from his father. I wonder what you would have done if you had ever got your hands on evidence of this sort about someone from the previous government.
JM: You mention Austin Gatt. Austin Gatt failed to declare this company. Konrad Mizzi declared it. It’s in his declaration of assets. That makes a huge difference to me.
CP: You’re being totally disingenuous though. He only declared it after he was outed by Daphne Caruana Galizia. You don’t set up a company all the way in Panama and hide it in a New Zealand trust only to declare it in Parliament. You’re insulting people’s intelligence with this explanation.
JM: Konrad Mizzi also paid the political price by giving up the deputy leadership role within the Labour Party. And he faced the electorate and the electorate showed total faith in him. And that’s because of all the incredible work he has done for the country – how he reduced energy bills, built a new power station, solved the out-of-stocks medicine problem, brought record tourism numbers to Malta, and now fixing Air Malta. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this government has the strongest possible mandate and I need Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi to help me continue delivering it.
CP: And what happens if wrongdoing is eventually found in their regard? Wouldn’t you have regretted letting them stay on?
JM: I don’t believe any wrongdoing was committed.
CP: Do you think their actions spoilt your chances to pursue a career in the EU?
JM: I think you shouldn’t believe everything you read. That is speculation.
CP: Which part? That you want to pursue an EU career or that your chances were ruined?
CP: Either way, the whole world is watching now. It’s been more than two years since you’ve been battling these same allegations. Don’t you regret not taking action beforehand?
JM: I don’t waste time with regret. I look forward instead. I’m proud of my government’s achievements and I look forward to more of them. We have revolutionised this country. We have introduced civil rights that others were afraid of even discussing. We have revitalised the economy and generated enough surplus to repay the debts of the past three governments that preceded us. We are making sure this wealth reaches the most vulnerable in our society. And we are being global pioneers in new industries such as medical cannabis and cryptocurrencies. I have nothing to be embarrassed about.
CP: During last week’s mass meeting you said you had nothing to be afraid of and nothing to upset you. You didn’t say you had nothing to hide. When it comes to Egrant, you keep asking for a shred of evidence to be presented. But according to our own investigations, there can be no proof because of the way this company was designed. When it comes to bearer instruments, a company’s ultimate beneficial owner becomes the person who holds a piece of paper. There aren’t any signatures, so all we have is the circumstantial evidence.
JM: This is the biggest political lie in history and I have nothing to hide, which is why I called a magisterial inquiry. Now, more than a year later, not a shred of evidence has been presented. My conscience is clean. And I believe the lie has already been unravelled.
CP: What is indisputable is that three Panama companies were set up by the same people, Nexia BT, in a process that started five days after you won the election. And when Egrant was being referred to, Nexia BT said the beneficial owner would be an individual and details would be given over Skype. Two of the companies were owned by Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, who till this day have failed to provide a legitimate reason for these companies. And yet, you have kept them by your side and defended them tooth and nail. Do you really blame people for thinking you own the company that was designed to require no signatures and no evidence of who owns it?
JM: People are free to believe what they want. I am telling the truth.