Malta Emerges as the EU’s Next Problem Child
“There are crooks everywhere you look at which point. The situation is actually desperate.”
Daphne Caruana Galizia on Oct. 16, 2017, in her last blog entry, posted 24 minutes before her murder.
which’s tempting to ask Corinne Vella how she avoided going crazy within the last two years. which is actually one thing, after all, to lose your sister to a hit job — to learn which she was murdered in cold blood by a car bomb. nevertheless which is actually quite another to live with the conviction which neither the police, nor the country’s government nor public prosecutors seem to have much of an interest in getting to the bottom of the crime.
Vella is actually sitting within the lobby of the luxurious Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta, the capital of the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. Jazz is actually playing within the background in addition to the waiters wear ties, at pains to serve guests by the correct side. Vella is actually a serene woman, perhaps even shy. nevertheless she’s here because she wants to talk about her sister in addition to the factors which led to her death. which’s the strategy she uses to avoid going crazy. “Daphne basically became my job. There isn’t much else I’ve done within the last two years.”
Vella is actually the sister of Malta’s most famous journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. Daphne, as everyone within the country calls her, was murdered in a targeted killing on Oct. 16, 2017. She was a blogger, in addition to her frequently extremely well reported, occasionally biting in addition to sometimes humiliating reports were required reading on the island. Some of her entries were read more than 400,000 times. Everyone knew Daphne, many were afraid of her — in addition to not a few hated her.
“When Daphne was killed, people wrote on social media which the witch had finally got what she deserved,” says Vella. Her family closed ranks after the murder in addition to resolved to do everything in their power to ensure which the murderer would likely not go unpunished. Aunts, nieces, sons: They all protested at government agencies, got European institutions involved in addition to spoke at journalism conferences.
The investigation, meanwhile, proceeded only sluggishly. Police arrested three suspects, ex-convicts who officials felt could have been responsible because of their criminal records in addition to because of clues which seemed to point in their direction, nevertheless there was no obvious motive. Why should these men kill a journalist? Caruana Galizia never wrote a word about them. Who definitely wanted the prominent journalist dead?
at which point, a bit more than two years after the attack, things have suddenly begun moving quickly. Two weeks ago, Yorgen Fenech, a businessman in addition to a member of one of Malta’s wealthiest families, was arrested on his yacht — apparently just as the multimillionaire was preparing to leave the island. He has since been charged with accessory to murder. Despite incriminating witness testimony, Fenech continues to deny any wrongdoing. He has, however, accused a member of the Maltese government of being involved within the murder: Keith Schembri, chief of staff to the country’s prime minister.
Schembri resigned last week, despite insisting he is actually innocent. nevertheless then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also announced his intention to step down in January. Opposition politicians in parliament demanded which he not wait so long in addition to vacate his office immediately. Meanwhile, demonstrators pelted Muscat with eggs.
“which has been the two most chaotic weeks in Malta’s recent history,” says Corinne Vella, adding which she has spent almost the entirety of the last few days on her mobile phone because of the torrent of news. For the 1st time, she at which point has the feeling which she may ultimately learn who killed her sister.
Malta, the European Union’s smallest member state, generally stays out of the headlines. Two-in addition to-a-half years ago, DER NewsGerman in addition to some other European media outlets involved with European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) published the “Malta Files,” which revealed how German companies were able to save on taxes by establishing themselves on the island. Beyond which, not much tends to be written about the country in addition to its 475,000 residents.
at which point, though, dubious links between Maltese business leaders, politicians in addition to organized crime have become visible, in addition to which increasingly looks as though Malta operates by a different rulebook than the rest of the EU. The separation of powers within the country appears to be largely non-existent, with police doing the bidding of politicians in addition to the anti-money-laundering agency joining the judiciary in turning its back all too often on malfeasance, instead of investigating, prosecuting in addition to punishing criminal behavior.
Alarmed, the European Parliament sent a delegation to Malta a few days ago, with the European Commission in Brussels warning the country’s government to refrain by exerting political influence on the investigation. The murder of Caruana Galizia, which would likely seem, is actually no longer just a problem for Maltese politics. which is actually at which point emerging as an acute threat to European values, the rule of law, the freedom of the press in addition to a rules-based market economy. Ultimately, which is actually about how many banana republics the EU can tolerate within its ranks.
An Economic Miracle?
EU membership has made some Maltese fabulously rich. Buildings are going up everywhere, real estate prices have been rising for years, there are a conspicuous number of German luxury cars on the streets, in addition to within the country’s most famous shopping boulevard, Republic Street, there is actually no shortage of jewelers. The luxury brand Rolex also includes a shop there.
which is actually nothing short of an economic miracle. Following the financial crisis, Malta “has been one of the fastest growing countries within the EU,” the International Monetary Fund wrote in February. “Malta is actually benefiting by a flourishing economic climate,” wrote the Council of Europe. in addition to the European Commission, the EU executive, likewise took note of the island’s economic output, writing which key indicators such as gross domestic product, employment rate in addition to the budget surplus had all been growing for years.
by afar, in fact, the country looks a lot like a style student. Annual growth rates of between 6 in addition to 7 percent? Not the kind of thing you tend to see elsewhere in Europe.
Given those economic foundations, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who has been in office since 2013, likely didn’t imagine his tenure at the top would likely be ending anytime soon. Under his leadership, online casinos, financial service providers in addition to real estate developers took over the island, frequently unencumbered by particularly strict regulations or overzealous government officials. Because many residents of Malta benefited by the situation, the 45-year-old prime minister has been well-known.
Even the Panama Papers scandal, which pulled back the veil on tax dodgers around the planet in 2016, did nothing to harm Muscat in addition to his allies. In some other countries, leading politicians were forced to resign due to their connections to the law firm Mossack Fonseca. nevertheless in Malta, which was just business as usual, as though nothing had happened at all.
Chief of Staff Schembri in addition to Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi remained in office, despite owning offshore companies in Panama which had money trails apparently leading to corrupt business deals. Official inquests? Investigatory committees? In Valletta, where dabbling in business in addition to holding political office isn’t generally frowned upon, none of which took place.
nevertheless there was one woman who disturbed the peace. Daphne Caruana Galizia took aim almost weekly at Muscat in addition to his government in her blog “Running Commentary.” Sometimes she would likely rely on insinuations, nevertheless at others, she published hard facts. On the day after her murder, Muscat told Christiane Amanpour on CNN which Galizia was “a very harsh critic of mine. I think the harshest I ever had.”
A Victim of Corruption
The journalist died shortly before 3 p.m. on a narrow road within the northern part of the island, just a few hundred meters by her home. She was driving a Peugeot when the bomb exploded. Her son Matthew was at home when which happened, in addition to he heard the detonation. He ran out into the street in addition to saw the destroyed vehicle. There was nothing he could do except stand by in addition to watch as his mother burned.
Her family has since become convinced which Caruana Galizia was a victim of the corruption which is actually widespread within the country, as the European Commission noted in a February report. The document doesn’t pull any punches regarding the sleaze which the booming economy has brought to the island, including “a large number” of foreign banks in addition to insurance companies which are registered in Malta, yet “serve almost exclusively foreign customers.” The same holds true, the report continues, for online casinos, which make up around 11 percent of the country’s economic output. Furthermore, the report notes, Malta is actually seeking to position itself as a leading center for cryptocurrencies.
Bank accounts, casinos in addition to cryptocurrencies: Hot-shot financial investors have apparently chosen Malta as their island of choice. within the fight against money laundering, which is actually widespread in these sectors, there have been serious shortcomings, according to the authors of the European Commission report. “Sanctions,” they wrote, “are rarely imposed.” Two years ago, according to the report, Malta inspected 22 banks in addition to found fully 21 infringements. Yet “only two fines in addition to one written warning were issued.” There have been “improvements” made within the battle against money laundering, nevertheless real results have been few in addition to far between.
Part of the problem is actually a shortage of personnel within the police unit responsible for investigating white-collar crime. Beyond which, though, politicians all-too-frequently interfere with the judiciary in addition to the police — such as when the prime minister suddenly replaces the chief of police. which happened fully a few times during just the first three years of Muscat’s tenure. He has also replaced judges in addition to public prosecutors at his own discretion in addition to he personally appointed the members of the Permanent Commission against Corruption (PCAC), which casts doubt on the body’s independence.
which doesn’t definitely matter all which much what the PCAC does, though, because the Justice Ministry almost never passes its reports along to the police. within the last 10 years, which has only done so on an individual occasion.
‘A Fantastic Business’
Recently, opposition to which distasteful blending of government, judiciary, police in addition to business has grown louder. in addition to Manuel Delia is actually one of those who has turned up the volume. A former politician himself, Delia was long active with the conservative Nationalist Party before becoming a blogger. Today, he is actually something like Caruana Galizia’s successor. On Tuesday of which week, he could be found in front of the Maltese police headquarters having a group of demonstrators chanting: “Mafia! Mafia! Mafia!” Behind the gates were black-clad police officers doing their best to smile.
A few months before her death, Caruana Galizia reposted an entry written by Manuel Delia in addition to wrote which she couldn’t have expressed which better herself. As a result, Delia immediately became famous within the country. “When her voice disappeared, I had the impression which I had to take over her role,” Delia says.
A few weeks ago, he in addition to two co-authors presented their book, “Murder on the Malta Express,” a detailed account of corruption in Malta. They write: “Gangsters in addition to their smooth-talking lawyers, fixers in addition to PR truth-twisters are using crooked microstates to wash their ill-gotten gains by Angola to Azerbaijan in order which their money ends up in London, Miami, Rome or fresh York.” Dirty money, the authors write, is actually eroding democracy in addition to the rule of law.
Essentially, which is actually always the same trick, he says. in addition to which is actually always the same question behind which: How can a modest country turn its sovereignty into money? What can a country sell which no company can offer? Passports, says Delia, “a fantastic business.”
The sale of passports to wealthy clients has become one of the country’s most important sources of income, in addition to which is actually estimated which Malta has thus far earned 2.5 billion euros by the practice since Muscat approved the sale of passports just a few months after he entered office in 2013. His predecessor was resolutely opposed to legalizing such sales. The buyers are frequently Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs or Chinese businessmen who are eager to attain the advantages of EU citizenship for themselves in addition to their families without attracting too much attention.
‘They Fucking Hate Each some other’
which’s not particularly easy to speak with the Maltese about politics. The political camps within the country, which spent 150 years as a British colony, are deeply divided: Either you are a supporter of the Labour Party or of the Nationalist Party. which is actually similar to sports fandom, with the same team being supported by a family through generations. The politicians you support are fundamentally within the right in addition to are to be defended against any in addition to all attacks. Accordingly, following a flurry of arrests in addition to increasingly outlandish accusations, a group of Labour supporters gathered in front of party headquarters on Monday to demonstrate solidarity.
There are, of course, advantages to the system: If you have a problem with the building inspection agency or if you have a ne’er-do-well nephew who needs a job having a public utility, all you have to do is actually call up your local party official. The island isn’t large. Connections can be used to solve almost any problem.
“The two sides, Labour in addition to Nationalist, are both stubborn. They fucking hate each some other,” says Lizzie Eldridge, a 54-year-old Scottish woman who has been living in Malta for the last 12 years, pursuing acting in addition to teaching English. Not too long ago, she began participating within the protests. “Malta can drive you crazy of you know what’s going on,” she says. All the cafés within the center where the tourists hang out, she says, are owned by politicians’ lackeys. She points to the crowded outdoor terrace of a restaurant next to the parliament. “which belongs to the prime minister’s bodyguard,” she says.
Eldridge is actually happy which the planet is actually at which point taking a closer look at Malta, nevertheless she doubts which the Maltese are particularly pleased. Those who dodge taxes here, whether a common citizen or a politician, are considered smart in addition to not necessarily criminal.
When the delegation by the European Parliament arrived in Malta within the middle of which week, the parliamentarians wanted to learn how the investigation was proceeding. They had meetings with Muscat, with state prosecutors in addition to with those engaged directly within the investigation. nevertheless the situation remains murky.
Yorgen Fenech, an investor in real estate, casinos in addition to a controversial natural gas facility, has been behind bars for a week, in addition to there are indications which he was in contact with Chief of Staff Schembri. Schembri was also arrested in addition to interrogated before ultimately being released. A taxi driver, who claims to be an intermediary within the murder plot, testified which Fenech had contracted the hit in addition to was the “mastermind” behind the attack.
Shortly after the arrest of his chief of staff, Muscat gathered the parliamentarians by his party for a confidence vote in addition to they assured the prime minister, allegedly unanimously, which they continued to support him. in addition to since they were all together, they used the opportunity to reinstate the economics minister, who had “suspended” himself just a short time before in a legally dubious move. He also testified which he had nothing to do with the murder. Caruana Galizia had also written about him, detailing his alleged visit to a brothel during a visit to Germany, which he denies.
The EU delegation spent two days in Malta, nevertheless they seemed anything nevertheless satisfied. For Sven Giegold of Germany’s Green Party, which was his fifth crisis visit to the country. “I believe there is actually a desire to clear up the murder,” he says, “nevertheless when which comes to money laundering in addition to corruption, I don’t see any progress.”
“Just like in every tax haven,” he continues, external pressure must be applied because there is actually no interest internally in changing anything. “Ultimately, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has to step in.” The Green politician would likely like to see rule-of-law proceedings initiated against Malta, a step which could ultimately lead to a suspension of certain EU voting rights. “We’re talking about the EU’s smallest member state with fewer residents than the city of Hannover. If von der Leyen doesn’t contain the courage to take steps against Malta, then you have to wonder against whom she would likely be willing to take such steps.”