Editorial: Justice requires dismissals
Yorgen Fenech, a director of the company providing most of Malta’s electricity, has been arrested as a “person of interest” in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Mr Fenech was revealed as the owner of the company 17 Black which has been exposed as having links with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, and with Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi. Mr Schembri has admitted that link.
As subsequently revealed in a leaked email, it was arranged for 17 Black to pay millions of euros into the Panama companies of Schembri and Mizzi.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has doggedly protected both men ever since these facts were made known, some of them by the assassinated journalist herself. That means his political fate is inextricably bound to theirs.
Having spent months dismissing questions about his chief of staff’s ties to 17 Black, Dr Muscat on Wednesday finally acknowledged that the concerns were “legitimate”.
Mr Fenech is, of course, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
But the positions of Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi are now untenable because a country cannot be governed by people who have intimate connections with a “person of interest” in a murder so closely linked to politics. It would not just continue to drag Malta’s international reputation through the mud but would reduce to dust the dignity of a supposedly proud nation and its people. They deserve more.
“If they don’t bear the political responsibility now, after Mr Fenech’s arrest, that line will have been obliterated.”
The electoral popularity of the Prime Minister is not a factor here. A democratic mandate is not the determinant of whether a line has been crossed in terms of political principle. That line was overstepped long ago – precisely when the Panama companies came to light and the Prime Minister failed to sack Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi.
If they don’t bear the political responsibility now, after Mr Fenech’s arrest, that line will have been obliterated.
It is therefore blindingly obvious that the Prime Minister has a huge stake in the outcome of the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Yesterday, he said he had ordered increased surveillance after announcing the pardon plans, effectively taking credit for preventing Mr Fenech’s escape. Instructions in any criminal case are normally handled independently by the law enforcement authorities, let alone one with such huge political implications.
The Prime Minister cannot, however, have it both ways.
He cannot seek to take credit for Mr Fenech’s arrest but then brush aside responsibility for standing by those who had offshore dealings with him.
It is understandable that the voices of dissent are growing louder, some saying that the “instructions” he is giving are more likely to be a means of seeking his own survival rather than “leaving no stone unturned”.
Though Dr Muscat may have painted Wednesday’s arrest as evidence that Malta’s institutions are healthy and fully functional, the reality is that their rehabilitation has not even started.
Let us give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and assume that justice is his foremost interest in this matter.
The compilation of evidence against the three men accused of carrying out the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia took the better part of two years to complete.
Given that context, accepting the Prime Minister’s argument that investigations should run their course before heads roll could mean waiting years. That is not justice. It would be a miscarriage of it.