The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Lawrence Gonzi shares recollections published in new book

Malta Independent Friday, 20 December 2013, 09:01 Last update: about 9 years ago

Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, whose book “Gonzi and Malta’s break with Gaddafi – recollections of a premier”, was launched on Wednesday, spoke with The Malta Independent on his intervention while the crisis unfolded and how he prevented a possible attack on the Corinthia’s Libya properties.

“Corinthia is an investment of millions by Maltese people who sustained it over the years. Its value can therefore be seen from several aspects and I felt the need to intervene for its protection,” he said.

When the revolutionary forces attacked Tripoli, and the revolution was to peak with the capital’s fall, Corinthia Group chairman Alfred Pisani informed Dr Gonzi of fears that there could have been people hiding in Palm City and the Corinthia Hotel, and the potential attack on the company’s properties.

At the time, Dr Gonzi had developed a good relationship with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, who attended the launch of Dr Gonzi’s book here, and Mahmoud Jibril, former interim prime minister, and he spoke to them requesting protection for Malta’s investment.

During a telephone conversation, Mr Jibril acknowledged he always found Malta at a time of need and gave an assurance this would be reciprocated, he said. Some minutes later, Dr Gonzi was informed that armed people had been sent to defend the Corinthia property and no damage was caused. In fact, the hotel continued to function and even gave a service when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, visited Libya. They addressed a news conference at the hotel.

Another incident which is well documented in the book is when two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots defected to Malta, having refused to attack their civilian population.

“Looking back at this incident now that you’re out of the political scene, what are your recollections?”, The Malta Independent asked.

“By time memory starts fading but this was an extraordinary incident and the book gives the facts following the two pilots’ decision to abandon the order given to them by Gaddafi’s regime,” Dr Gonzi said. “One must remember,” he stressed, “that this was only five days into the revolution”.

On 17 February, 2011, protests started in Benghazi and on 21 February, the pilots received the order to bomb a village situated between Benghazi and Tripoli to kill people. They decided not to obey the order and instead flew to Malta at very low altitude to avoid radar detection. Their arrival was unannounced but Dr Gonzi gave instructions that they were to be given political asylum.

“This was a decision of two heroes who left their families in Libya. They were worried sick about them and their lives and they were emotionally broken,” he said.

The situation was discussed first with former police commissioner John Rizzo and then with the former Armed Forces of Malta commander, Brigadier Martin Xuereb. They understood Dr Gonzi’s thoughts and helped the pilots to ease off their pressure day by day, sheltering them from media attention, while making efforts to discreetly communicate with their families, without exposing them to danger.

Like the Corinthia incident, this had a positive outcome and the pilots eventually returned to their homeland and their families, while they remained grateful to Malta.

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