Over the weekend, a political crisis grew in the eastern Mediterranean, as the politicians of Malta reacted, or conspicuously failed to react, to the consequences of the arrest last week of prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech, for his alleged involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Fenech is one of the wealthiest men in Malta. He owns two casinos, as well as a cyberspace gambling operation, and an import business. He was also the leader of a consortium that bid successfully, in 2013, for a contract with the government to build a power station.
He has been arrested for the murder in 2017, by car bomb, of a journalist and anti-corruption blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Motive for a Murder?
Galizia died October 16, 2017 when the bomb placed in her leased car exploded. She appears at the time of her death to have been looking into the explanation of that 2013 Electrogas contract.
Galizia had discovered that the energy minister at the time Fenech’s consortium won that award, Konrad Mizzi, and the chief of staff of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, both had links to shell companies based in Panama, and that these companies were about to receive $2 million from a shadowy company called 17 Black.
Since Galizia’s death, other journalists, inspired by her work, have pursued her lead and found that 17 Black was controlled by Fenech. There is a paper trial that strongly suggests that Fenech won that contract illicitly and that he had good reason to want Galizia silenced before she could draw exactly that conclusion.
The Impact of her Death
Her death had an enormous visceral impact on many, not merely in Malta but around Europe. Malta is the smallest member state of the EU. The European Parliament, in Strasbourg, held a minute’s silence in her honor. Parliament renamed its media room in her honor, and a portrait of Daphne Caruano Galizia hangs outside of that room.
The visceral impact was perhaps heightened by the poignant final paragraph she entered into her blog. Hours before she was to be murdered she posted: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”
The title of that post was, “That crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook.” Schembri, then the chief of staff of prime minister Joseph Muscat, had been in court pursuing a libel case against an opposition politician.
Two years after Galizia’s death, as news stories uncovered a widening web of corruption in the government in which the PM had been at the least complicit, in response to street protests demanding that he resign, Muscat left that office.
European officials and human rights activists have expressed concern about what has seemed to be the slow-motion investigation of Galizia’s murder.
But the pace has picked up of late, as Yorgen Fenech’s arrest attests. In an effort to secure himself a pardon, Fenech has offered to provide evidence on other powerful Maltese figures, including Mr Schembri, and the former Economy Minister Chris Cardona. His efforts at deal making haven’t thus far helped him.
Continuing Calls for a Clean Break
When Robert Abela became Prime Minister in the wake of Muscat’s resignation he re-organized the cabinet and excluded Cardona precisely because there was a lot of talk at that time that he may have been involved in the plot to kill Galizia. (There is no evidence that he was and authorities have taken no action against him.)
Though Cardona has complained of a frame-up, he resigned his seat in Malta’s parliament more than a year ago.
Over the weekend, there were many calls for current Prime Minister Robert Abela should demonstrate a clean break from the corruption of the recent past by expelling Muscat from the Labour Party. Abela has not spoken to the point. To some, his silence has seemed an answer in itself, and the wrong one.