The Malta Independent 30 March 2023, Thursday
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The Spy Who Fried Me

Daphne Caruana Galizia Thursday, 25 May 2017, 10:40 Last update: about 7 years ago

I don’t think Joseph Muscat, and whoever it was with whom he planted that question among the press corps yesterday morning, expected the result they got. They clearly expected lots of oohs, ahs and OMGs. A Russian spy! Putin did it! But instead the country fell about laughing – and they got their OMGs, all right, but for the wrong reason. “OMG, did Muscat really say that? What has he been smoking/drinking/popping?”


I must confess it was a little while before I joined in the general merriment at the expense of the Prime Minister and his small army of expensive communications gurus who thought this would be such a wonderful idea for supporters of the Panama cause to latch on to. My first reaction was astonishment of the shocked, not amused, kind. Here we had the head of government of a European Union member state, calling a press conference to accuse Russia’s head of government of masterminding a plot to destabilise him and bring him down.

I will repeat that: what we saw this morning, and what will have been registered in Russia and right across the European Union, is that the Russian government has been accused of conspiracy to bring down the government of a European Union member state. And the man making that accusation heads the government he said Putin is trying to bring down.

People laughed. I did, too, at all the jokes and memes. But this is actually extremely serious. Muscat is irresponsible beyond measure to have said what he did, to make such a grave diplomatic misstep for Malta in yet another attempt at saving his own partisan Panama skin. What he did there this morning is grounds for a demarche from the Russian government through its embassy in Malta – a demarche being formal diplomatic terminology for an official complaint. If such a demarche is made, it can then be escalated depending on the nature of the Maltese government’s response.

If Russia does file this formal complaint with the Maltese government, the significance is heightened and the European Union as a whole dragged into the mess, because it is not simply the head government of a European Union member state who has made this crazy accusation. That EU member state is the one which holds the presidency of the European Council.

While watching Muscat’s ham-acting this morning in response to a stooge question about Russian spies sent to destroy him, I couldn’t help wondering how Malta’s much-vaunted turn at the wheel of the EU presidency – its first, and it will not have another go for 14 years – has ended up this way. The Prime Minister is under investigation in a magisterial inquiry into money-laundering – yes, not company ownership, but money-laundering, his chief of staff is under investigation for money-laundering in a separate inquiry, both are refusing to appear before the European Parliament’s anti-money-laundering committee, the government is falling apart, Malta scandals swirl right across the European media and fill the newspaper pages back home, a general election has been called, Muscat is fighting an increasingly desperate election campaign instead of concentrating on EU Council presidency issues, and all EU Council meetings and obligations have been abandoned. Those two years of preparation, all that money spent on a media war-room in the old parliament chamber at the Palace, all that fuss and fanfare, the big budget and the splashy opening ceremony – all of that has gone down the spout with Malta’s reputation.

To quote the Spouse of the Prime Minister, “But how is it possible?” And here I must repeat my persistent question yet again: for the Prime Minister to have decided, as far back as March, to torpedo Malta’s six months in the EU Presidency sunshine with a general election – and this was before the Egrant Inc story broke – then whatever drove him to do it must be very, very frightening indeed. I have reached the conclusion, with absolutely no evidence but just a very strong gut feeling, that the pressure was external and not internal. In other words, it wasn’t coming from Malta but from outside Malta. Whatever deal these bandits struck, whoever they struck it with wants to make sure they are reconfirmed in power now and not next year. The reason Muscat called a general election at the most inconvenient time possible for him and for Malta – during the EU Council presidency – is the same reason he and his co-bandits can’t resign. They need to be in power to deliver on whatever shady deal they’ve entered into, because if they don’t deliver they may have serious problems that are not just of the money kind. Quite frankly, I think they’re being threatened, having got in over their head.

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