The Malta Independent 29 March 2023, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: Dealing with dictators

Wednesday, 20 July 2022, 09:47 Last update: about 9 months ago

Ursula von der Leyen last week announced a deal with Azerbaijan’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev to double the amount of natural gas which Azerbaijan produces and sends to Europe by 2027 – a deal which comes as the bloc searches for new partners to replace Russia with.

The EU was prompted into taking this course of action out of fear that sanctions against Russia over its war against Ukraine will prompt it to close the tap on the gas it supplies to Europe – while Moscow has thus far denied using its gas as a weapon against the EU, gas supply from Russia has fallen by over 60% in recent weeks, thereby prompting increases in energy bills across the continent.


The news was greeted in a particular manner in Malta because of the controversy surrounding the country’s decision to veer its power supply to Azerbaijan way back in 2014 – controversy which still rumbles on today and which was at the centre of scandal after scandal.

Muscat and his close allies had travelled to Azerbaijan in an unannounced trip to sign the deal which opened the way for Malta to be supplied with gas from Azeri state agency SOCAR. 

It was later revealed that Muscat’s energy minister Konrad Mizzi and his chief of staff Keith Schembri had opened secret companies in Panama. One of their target clients was a Dubai-based company called 17 Black – which was to pay the equivalent of 5,000 every day into Mizzi and Schembri’s companies – which was later revealed to belong to Electrogas director Yorgen Fenech.

The source of 17 Black’s funds was believed to be from Azeri officials connected to SOCAR. Mayor Trans, a company controlled by an Azeri security guard for instance, wired €1.4 million in two tranches to 17 Black in November 2015.

Yorgen Fenech currently stands charged with masterminding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was the first to reveal the existence of 17 Black in a blog-post in February 2017 – eight months prior to her assassination.

The scandal is the most defining of the Labour Party’s time in a government, and one which they will never be able to erase.

However, the news of the EU’s deal with Azerbaijan has allowed people such as Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to exhibit something of a jubilant “I told you so” mood.

Muscat in fact quoted von der Leyen saying that Azerbaijan is now a crucial partner for the EU, and then compared that to how many insults were thrown at his government for cooperating with Azerbaijan in the first place many years prior.

Muscat said: “One wonders whether they will call Von der Leyen corrupt or that she falsified some signature for her husband to take cash from the Azeris” – referring to allegations by Daphne Caruana Galizia that Muscat’s wife had received a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs through a secret Panama company called Egrant.

An inquiring magistrate had found no proof that this was the case, saying that some key signatures on the documents in question had been falsified, but did not draw any conclusions on who Egrant actually belonged to or was intended for.

Many other leading PL figures had largely the same rhetoric in reacting to the matter, and it’s a rhetoric which has evidently been spread to the party’s most faithful.

Let us get one thing out of the way: any dictatorship is a stain upon the world.  Dictators treat their subjects purely as a means to their own aggrandizement, and they govern to that end, rather than to the end actually improving their subject’s lives.

Therefore, dealing with any dictatorship is bad.  Malta resorting to a dictatorship for its gas supply was bad in 2014, and the EU resorting to the same dictatorship for its gas supply in 2022 is bad as well and therefore in no way remotely justifies what Muscat’s government did (behind everyone’s backs, no less) in 2014.

It feels like the EU, in this announcement, has acted more out of desperation in order to avoid any further price rises than with all too much logic.

For what will happen if, in some day in the future, the EU were to issue sanctions against Azerbaijan? When facing such a thing as sanctions, one looks to what kind of leverage they have… Aliyev would have to look no further than its own gas tap – leaving the EU back at square one.


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