The Malta Independent 20 February 2019, Wednesday

Premier non sequiturs

Noel Grima Sunday, 3 February 2019, 09:29 Last update: about 17 days ago

In court on Thursday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insisted that if the heirs of Daphne Caruana Galizia were to accept she was wrong in her Egrant claims, he would drop the court case against her.

Come again.

Let me see if I can get this right.

It is already something that the case was not dropped after Daphne was assassinated. Other people, including some close to him, dropped their cases against Daphne after her death. Similar cases have been dropped when the person being sued dies, from natural causes. This was no natural cause. She was blown up and her murderer/s has/have not been found. The murderer is still running around.

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Not the prime minister, though. He wants to bury the allegation deep in the ground, as if it was never made. Almost as if he wants to rewrite the history books and expunge the allegation.

So he offers to drop the court case if her family admits Daphne was wrong in her original claim. If they refuse, the cases against Daphne will continue to the bitter end. I do not know if any of the cases are criminal libel cases which, in this case, can still lead to a prison term. But I am sure that the heirs of the blogger will not find it difficult to cloud-source funds to pay for any fine the court may impose. That happened before when Chris Cardona got the court to impose a garnishee order on Daphne.

In a way I do not blame him for continuing the libel case after the death of its author seeing how the allegation affected him and his immediate family, but in another way it is all so pointless: why should her family be held liable for what Daphne wrote? And, since this carries a pecuniary aspect, why should they pay for the fines imposed on her after her death? I know that if a person dies in debt, his heirs can either renounce the inheritance or else pay the debt but we are talking here about a potential debt still to be established and a person who was killed probably for what she wrote.

At law and in court, the Prime Minister instituting a libel case is an ordinary citizen but of course he is no ordinary citizen. As has been pointed out over and over again, he is the uncrowned king of Malta, enjoying absolute and unparalleled power - power to appoint judges, power to appoint the President, power to choose Cabinet.

We are moving, I think, to a constitutional crisis of national dimensions. I can see the many court cases involving the head of government coming before the European Court of Justice, with many people sentenced in the Maltese courts claiming they could not get real justice with the courts in their present format, and the great power the Prime Minister enjoys.

In a real operating democracy, the people would express their judgement on the operational record of the government they have elected but I seriously doubt this will happen, not in the May EP elections, not in the general election coming up. It did not happen in 2017 and the Maltese electorate proved to be putty in the hands of blandishments of all sorts.

But there is a different sort of court of judgement out there. Egrant, whose owner is still unknown, is the third Panama company exposed in an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

All over the world, people alleged to be connected to Mossack Fonseca have continued to be arrested and arraigned. The prime minister of Iceland resigned two days after being linked to an offshore company. The prime minister of Pakistan was banned for life from holding public office and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In India, 426 people were investigated. There have been no less than 150 reactions in 80 countries including inquiries, audits or investigations by police, customs, finance crime and Mafia prosecutors, judges and courts, tax authorities, parliaments and corporations.

Not in Malta, though.

Here, anything that threatens to implicate the head of government and his close aides gets massive and immediate smothering inside and outside the courts of justice. The Prime Minister quotes from the conclusions of the inquiry but only he and his close cronies have seen a copy of these conclusions and the general public is not allowed to see them.

So why this insistence on the family giving in and acknowledging Egrant was a lie if the Prime Minister was otherwise in a completely strong position? As Rebecca Vincent from Reporters without Frontiers said: "We may not yet know who ordered the hit on #DaphneCaruanaGalizia, but there are some at the very highest levels of government in #Malta who clearly benefit from her inability to continue reporting on them."

 

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