GUEST POST: The balance of power between Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi and Tonna has shifted

Published: February 26, 2017 at 9:30pm


It all started years ago before Joseph Muscat became leader of the Labour Party. He and Keith Schembri put their heads together and created a road map which was amended and refined across the years. One of the first things Muscat said when interviewed in his first days as Labour leader was that he had a “15-year road map” which he had been working on for a while.

When the 2013 general elections drew near, Schembri and Muscat saw that they couldn’t execute their road map alone. Schembri wasn’t seeking election and so couldn’t be in the cabinet. Muscat would be Prime Minister and couldn’t sign government contracts himself. They would need a third man: one who would definitely be elected, be given a cabinet position, and made a super-minister to sign key contracts on corruption deals.

But he couldn’t be anyone who was in the Labour Party already. And had to be somebody malleable, grateful and biddable. They identified Konrad Mizzi, pulled him in from the outside, pumped him up, promoted him as a star candidate, and ensured his election.

But they started the ball rolling on their deals long before that. Around 2010 Muscat went to China and met senior government figures there, then announced that he had signed a deal with them. He couldn’t sign a deal with them on behalf of Malta, because he was leader of the Opposition. So what deal did he sign? As soon as they got into power, they started executing all their plans.

They started by having Brian Tonna begin the process to set up their money-laundering structures in Panama and New Zealand, just a few days after being voted in and even before Muscat appointed his cabinet. They made Konrad Mizzi their energy minister. When their shady deal on Malta’s public hospitals neared conclusion, they kicked out the Health Minister and made Konrad Mizzi Health Minister instead. Now he was Minister for both energy and health, and he also had charge of Projects Malta, the government corporation which negotiates all major state deals.

Then somebody who will remain forever unknown hacked into Mossack Fonseca’s email server in Panama City and took the contents to the German national newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The rest is history. Muscat’s, Schembri’s and Mizzi’s cover was blown. Before, we had suspected that they were up to no good but couldn’t put our finger on it, and they always had some excuse. Now, we knew for sure. For those three, last February there was no going back.

They thought that Mizzi would take all the blame and that he would be the fall guy. Schembri and Muscat pushed him out front to take the bullets. Even though Schembri’s name was in the mix too, with exactly the same kind of company and trust, he stayed in the shadows, and Muscat defended him fiercely, saying that he is “not elected” and “not a politician”.

The very reason they chose Mizzi – that is, his Asperger syndrome – would, now that they were exposed, begin working against them. People with Asperger syndrome have no understanding of normal interaction and behaviour. They can’t read situations or facial expressions. They don’t know what is and isn’t the appropriate thing to say or do. And they are hard-headed: Mizzi’s hard-headedness does not allow him to accept this situation. And so he is proceeding ‘as normal’ and the other two are unable to stop him or control him as he boasts about his successes and talks about his family estate planning and his wife in Shanghai, to whom he appears to believe he is still married.

This has created one hell of a problem. If you are picking up the impression that Konrad Mizzi is growing stronger and more defiant to those who previously controlled him, while Muscat is growing weaker and losing control, and Schembri is increasingly angry and cutting loose or being cut loose, then you are right.

Keith Schembri started out as the Prime Minister behind the Prime Minister. Now he is the weakest pawn. He never thought he would get ill. Who does? Terminal illness strikes like a bolt out of the blue, shortening our horizon and confounding all our plans.

Because he is spending his days at home now, he knows that his wife is the one who must be there for him in the terrible days that he will have to endure. To placate her, he takes her to Switzerland to make her signatory to his bank accounts. These might even have been bank accounts about which she knew nothing, which he may have hidden from her with the help and advice of Brian Tonna, who did exactly that with large amounts of his own assets, concealing them from his wife through companies and bank accounts in secretive jurisdictions, before leaving her for another woman.

Suddenly, the man who always preferred to work in the shadows now openly insults the PANA Committee, sending a messenger to hand over a letter in the street, a letter so crazy in its content that it is described by the leaders of that committee as “outrageous” and “a scandal”. That is the behaviour of someone who no longer gives a damn, who couldn’t care less, and who feels that now he has nothing to lose.

Konrad Mizzi started out as the weakling, a puppet on a string. Now he can’t accept that he has to pay for his crimes while the other two get off scot free. He is adamant that he is going to stay in the cabinet because that way he will continue signing the contracts and keeping his eyes on the other two. He has also made a unilateral announcement that he will stand for election again.

His erratic behaviour has even brought him to the point of telling the PANA Committee that Nexia BT mixed him up with Keith Schembri. This is his way of pointing his finger at both Brian Tonna (“he’s disorganised and unprofessional”) and Schembri (“Keith is the corrupt one, not me”). That he did this so publicly means that they’ve had a falling out. Who would have thought that possible, only a few months ago?

Meanwhile, Joseph Muscat is running around like a headless chicken. He’s floundering and has no idea which road to take. His fixer and co-conspirator is on the way out and won’t be around for the last five years of their 15-year plan, and couldn’t give a damn already anyway, because now his priorities lie not in signing more corrupt deals to have more money to launder, but making sure that he will not leave massive problems for his wife and children to face when he is gone. 

Konrad Mizzi is giving Muscat headaches and Muscat now has to contend with him on his own as Schembri retreats into his cave. Mizzi is the most powerful of the three right now: the balance of power has shifted completely. He plans to stick to the original plan to continue dealing and signing contacts and getting the kickbacks. Muscat can’t do without him now because he can’t afford to let somebody else in and he can’t see his own way out.

Muscat is the one who will lose the most. Everybody knows that Egrant Inc in Panama is his and that there is bound to be an associated trust in New Zealand, just as with the other two. It hasn’t yet been proved, but his most recent move, the result of panic, was a huge mistake. Asking Brian Tonna to pretend that Egrant Inc is a shelf company which Nexia BT bought for kicks, just in case, only confirms what everybody had been thinking all along, including the sceptics. Now, Muscat is also at the mercy of Tonna. 

The four men are no longer working with their heads together. Now, each one is defending his turf. Now, Brian Tonna is the most powerful in this plot, because he’s the one with all the leverage and the other three are the ones with everything to lose. Of course, Tonna stands to lose it all too: he faces the prospect of a trial for money-laundering, the confiscation of his assets, the loss of his warrant, and time spent behind bars.

But meanwhile, he’s going to fight for his survival and will work to get as much money and as many government deals as he can from a Prime Minister who is not in a position to refuse him anything. Tonna is the one who holds a gun to their heads. And because of that, he is also the one who is most at risk. Lino Cauchi, an accountant to the robber barons of the 1980s government, ended up hacked to bits with a saw and dumped in a well for knowing far less than Tonna does, and he wasn’t even involved with his ‘clients’. He just knew what they were up to.

Joseph Muscat is the one who stands to lose most. His face has been splashed all over the world and he will lose face very soon. He won’t be able to hide anywhere. Brian Tonna might be able to slip off to Venezuela. It won’t be possible for a former Prime Minister of a European Union member state. The cronies who Muscat cosied up to for deals, and who cosied up to him, will shun him soon enough. And it looks like Busuttil will slam the door on them too.

If they hadn’t taken the self-preserving precaution of making a stooge Commissioner of Police, they would all be squealing like pigs by now. The way increasing numbers of people see it, that day can’t come soon enough.

Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Kurt Farrugia and Joseph Muscat in Baku, Azerbaijan