Back then they said I was lying, and that my reports were “fake news”

Published: May 30, 2017 at 12:56pm

The Prime Minister said at a press conference this morning that Keith Schembri, his chief of staff, wanted to resign “when reports of his ill-health emerged”.

No mention was made of the fact that it was this website which broke the news last November that Schembri has a rare form of tumour on his optic nerve which eventually causes blindness and may be terminal. I had sought to obtain Schembri’s comments before reporting the story but he first didn’t take my calls and then, after I sent him text messages identifying myself, he blocked my number permanently. It remains blocked.

Schembri and Muscat had concealed Schembri’s illness from the press and the public, and I began to ask questions after I noticed that Schembri had not been visible in the media or in public for some weeks. I discovered that he had not been going to the office and was spending his days at home. Through chance, I then found out that he was in London for treatment, accompanied by Labour MP Franco Mercieca, and that they had been advised to travel to the United States for further examinations.

When I broke this story, the reaction was vicious. Government aides said I was lying and that the story was “fake news”. Franco Mercieca stood up in parliament to deliver a tirade of insults against me, protected by parliamentary privilege so that I was unable to take legal action against him.

But Schembri himself had his lawyers write to the Data Protection Commissioner, asking him to instruct me to take down the story, not on the grounds that it was untrue or incorrect, but on grounds of breach of privacy. After the usual back-and-forth, the Commissioner ruled that I should take it down.

The Prime Minister’s claim this morning that Schembri wanted to resign “when reports emerged about his health” is surprising for two reasons. The first and most obvious is that one resigns when one is diagnosed with a grave illness, and not when news of that grave illness is reported in the media, especially when the reason one gives is the need to spend more time on medical care.

The second is that this conflicts completely with Keith Schembri’s actual claims, made only yesterday, that he offered his resignation to the Prime Minister “several times” because of the entirely separate controversies to do with the swirl of scandal surrounding him. Read his round-robin email here.