The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: Muscat’s chosen ones: who will be the next to fall?

Sunday, 14 March 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 1 month ago

Many of the people appointed to prominent roles by Joseph Muscat, or who the former Prime Minister surrounded himself with, have been embroiled in serious scandals and have been forced to step down in disgrace.

Many of them have been, or still are, the subject of criminal or ethics investigations.

The list is a long one, and it continues to grow longer. Furthermore, alleged Daphne murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech is a common link in many of the cases.

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Chief among them is Keith Schembri, a personal friend of Muscat and one of the architects of the 'new' Labour party. Often referred to as the 'de facto' Prime Minister, Schembri has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, including the Panama Papers and the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder.

He has been the subject of various magisterial inquiries and FIAU reports, including about his alleged dealings with former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman.

Schembri has been arrested and questioned on more than one occasion over various allegations ranging from financial crimes to leaking information about the Daphne murder case. It is also alleged that he tried to pin the murder on Chris Cardona. Once considered to be one of Labour's top performers, he has now become toxic, and many Labour politicians have disowned him.

Konrad Mizzi, once a star candidate and the man who promised that things would finally be done properly in the energy sector, was also forced to bow his head down in shame. Like Schembri, he was involved in the worst political scandals this country has seen in the past decade. The Panama companies, Electrogas, the Vitals privatisation deal, the Montenegro windfarm ... the list goes on and on. Mizzi did not only lose his Cabinet spot as a result of his actions, but he was also unceremoniously kicked out of the Labour Party. Like Schembri, Mizzi has also been repeatedly questioned by the police.

Then there is Chris Cardona, who had aggressively sued Daphne over the German brothel claims, only to then drop the case. He has also been linked with one of the alleged hitmen in the murder and, just this week, his name came up again in testimony given by one of the killers. Cardona denies the allegations as "pure evil fiction", but the fact is that he has courted controversy several times. Together with Mizzi and former finance minister Edward Scicluna, he is the subject of a magisterial inquiry into the hospitals privatisation deal. Cardona was excluded from PM Robert Abela's Cabinet, resigned from MP in April and was asked to step down as PL Deputy Leader in June 2020.

Another of Muscat's men who fell from grace is former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar. Considered to be one of the ineptest police chiefs in Malta's history, Cutajar looked on as political scandals unfolded all around him. He had once said that Muscat was a Prime Minister "with balls," but it turned out he lacked a pair of his own.

Most of his predecessors did not fare much better. Malta had five police commissioners during Muscat's eight-year tenure, and during that time not a single politician was prosecuted.

Another top police officer promoted under Muscat, Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta, was also disgraced when it emerged that he had a very cosy relationship with Yorgen Fenech. Valletta also took his wife - Justyne Caruana - down with him.

Then there was OPM official Neville Gafa, who was involved the infamous Libyan medical visas racket. It was recently reported that he travelled to Libya to try to silence the witnesses in the case. Gafa frequently visited Schembri at his Mellieħa home at the time when he was implicated in the Daphne murder. His role at the OPM was terminated when Robert Abela became Prime Minister last year.

Several other top officials appointed by Muscat were embroiled in scandals involving Yorgen Fenech.

The most recent case involved tourism authority CEO Johann Buttigieg. It was recently reported that he shared a close relationship with Yorgen Fenech and had expressed willingness to do business with him when he was still at the helm of the PA. Buttigieg is facing calls to step down.

Then there is Joseph Cuschieri, who Muscat appointed head of the MFSA. He had to resign after it emerged that he had travelled to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech to advise him on gaming matters. At the time, he was already head of the financial services regulator.

Rosianne Cutajar - the young Qormi politician who was among Muscat's favourites - also had to suspend herself after details about her dealings with Fenech were exposed in the media. She allegedly took €9,000 from Fenech and is currently facing court action to reimburse €44,500 she had received from the seller of the property. In leaked conversations, Fenech had also promised to give her some money, while Cutajar had solicited help for a 2019 survey.

Heathcliff Farrugia, who was appointed CEO of the Malta Gaming Authority in 2017, is facing criminal charges following an investigation into trading in influence with Yorgen Fenech. Farrugia resigned in October last year shortly after he was questioned by police over his communication with Fenech.

One cannot but wonder whether it is a coincidence that so many of the people appointed by Muscat during 'L-Aqwa Żmien' were all embroiled in scandals, many of them involving Yorgen Fenech. One also cannot but wonder who will be the next to fall.


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