When Joseph Muscat met Ilham Aliyev and didn’t want the DOI and TVM there

Published: April 18, 2017 at 11:39am

In April two years ago, the Prime Minister travelled to Azerbaijan for a meeting with Ilham Aliyev, accompanied by Kurt Farrugia and Konrad Mizzi.

Reno Bugeja, head of news at the public service broadcaster, TVM, was supposed to accompany them, along with a cameraman and a photographer from the government’s Department of Information. The DOI was supposed to obtain visas for Azerbaijan for the three men, but told them it hadn’t managed to do so and that they should leave Malta on their (transit) flight to Paris all the same and wait there for the visas.

The two men from TVM and the DOI photographer ended up stranded in Paris for 24 hours. Reno Bugeja was furious. During those 24 hours, the Department of Information did not take their calls and Kurt Farrugia, the head of government communications, didn’t answer his phone either.

When they were finally told that the visas had come through, they left Paris for Ukraine, en route to Baku. They landed in Baku late at night and immediately tried to contact the Department of Information in Malta, or Kurt Farrugia in Azerbaijan, for directions on what to do and where to go.

The three men from TVM and the DOI, who were there at the government of Malta’s behest, spent three hours at Baku airport ringing Kurt Farrugia and getting no reply, and eventually left and went to a hotel.

When they finally got through to Farrugia, he told them that it didn’t matter that they had missed Joseph Muscat’s meeting with Ilham Aliyev, which is what they thought they were supposed to be there for. They were astonished. Shouldn’t the head of government communications have been freaking out that they missed photographing and filming such a high-level meeting?

They realised that they hadn’t been wanted at the meeting and that the visas fiasco and failure to answer phones was just a ruse to hold them off while at the same time pretending – after the accusations the previous December that Muscat, Mizzi, Farrugia and Schembri had gone to Baku without the media – that this time, the media had been invited, albeit only TVM.

Instead, TVM and the photographer from the DOI found that they had gone to all that trouble and travelled all that way just for a meeting of old ex-leaders of dodgy countries, who Ilham Aliyev had invited to Baku to show how democratic he is. This was a far cry from the meeting about oil and gas which they had been led to expect.

Joseph Muscat in Baku – photograph from the Azerbaijan press.