When the public got to know how much Ninu Zammit had concealed, the climate changed

Published: March 9, 2015 at 4:56pm

ninu zammit pic

Joseph Muscat 1

The prime minister’s first reaction to The Malta Independent’s revelations two weeks ago that Ninu Zammit and Michael Falzon had concealed money in Switzerland while they were cabinet ministers was to defend them.

“Michael and Ninu are not Austin,” he tweeted. The mantra was taken up by his aides, followers and party media hacks. Instead of pronouncing themselves scandalized at the wrong-doing of those two – look at the fuss they made about a clock – they said absolutely nothing except to go on the defensive.

That was only possible because Ninu Zammit refused to say how much he had hidden, while Michael Falzon revealed a relatively ‘paltry’ half a million and also apologised.

At that stage, the prime minister did not believe that Zammit’s amount would become public, because Zammit himself was refusing to reveal it. He didn’t imagine that anybody in the Maltese press would gain access to the Swiss Leaks database and find out for themselves.

But as soon as I read how much Zammit had been hiding, I knew the situation was untenable. The minute a figure goes into the millions, people sit up and take notice. And they get angry. They might have sort of brushed aside Michael Falzon’s half-million, but there was no way on earth they were going to do the same with Zammit’s three million and counting.

And so it happened. The situation was made more difficult for the prime minister because it was his government which gave Zammit an amnesty that not only absolves him from the legal consequences but also allows him full use of his money, which he didn’t have before because it was undeclared and so could be used only in restricted parameters.

So suddenly Muscat found himself in a position where the man he was defending – or saying nothing about – and to whom his government had given an amnesty, had been revealed to the public as having concealed more than three million dollars while he was a cabinet minister.

Defending him or staying silent was no longer an option for Muscat, so this morning he suddenly decided to say that Zammit and Falzon are going to be investigated.

And now, to prove his own sarcastic point about ‘Ninu and Michael not being Austin’, he will have to face questions as to why Austin Gatt isn’t being investigated too. And then he will have to reply with the truth that he has hidden so far (deliberately) – that Gatt was investigated two years ago and nothing untoward was found.

It’s terrible when you have a prime minister who changes his tune according to how the climate develops. Now we are not defending ‘Ninu’. Now we are investigating him, because The Malta Independent revealed yesterday that ‘Ninu’ hid $3.2 million and people got really, really angry.