Daphne’s murder showed danger of Maltese political corruption – new US Ambassador

Daphne’s murder showed danger of Maltese political corruption – new US Ambassador
27.10.2022 13:10 – Christoph Schwaiger

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia showed the danger of corruption in Maltese politics and society, the new US Ambassador to Malta said in her statement to the US’s Foreign Relations Committee as she was being considered for the role.

Today, the 27th of October, Constance Milstein presented her credentials to Malta’s President George Vella. She will be the first US ambassador to Malta in four years since Ambassador Kathleen Hill in 2018.

While her statements about rule of law and democracy are welcome news, unfortunately, Milstein was also at the centre of a scandal in the US. It happened some 20 years ago, but she was fined $5,000. More on this below.

Back in May 2022, Milstein delivered a statement to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee while she was being nominated for the role of Ambassador to Malta.

In her statement, she described Daphne Caruana Galizia as “an important Maltese investigative journalist”. She vowed to “champion rule of law efforts and an open and free press” if she were to be given the role. These statements will surely be welcomed by the hundreds of people in Malta and around the world who to this day continue to seek full justice in Caruana Galizia’s case. They continue to do so despite the Maltese Government’s best efforts to dissuade them from their mission.

Milstein said that one of her priorities will be to tackle corruption and impunity.

What else did Milstein say?

Milstein also mentioned rule of law reforms regarding anti-money laundering and the countering of the financing of terrorism. She had said that Malta needed a stronger financial regulatory environment.

“If confirmed, I would work with Malta to make these reforms sustainable for the long term,” she said.

Milstein considers herself to be an advocate for fairness, justice, and democracy. If she sticks true to her cause, she will prove to be a great asset to Malta. US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave her a glowing recommendation during her nomination hearing.

Milstein fined $5,000

During her hearing she was also asked by Senator Barrosso about the Milwaukee ‘smokes-for-votes scandal’. The Guardian had reported that she “was caught on video handing out cigarettes to homeless men in Milwaukee in return for votes in favour of Al Gore”. In November 2000, The New York Post reported that Connie Milstein faced possible bribery charges in relation to the incident.

In December 2021, New York Times national political reporter Shane Goldmacher tweeted about her nomination and about the “smokes for votes episode”.

Politifact also covered the incident. It said: “In May 2001, Milstein agreed to pay $5,000 in a civil forfeiture, a legal term that admitted no guilt and closed the case.”

It also said: “Nonetheless, the campaign for Al Gore distanced itself from Milstein and released a statement right after the event happened saying her efforts were “not the kind of help we ask for and it’s the kind of help we flat out reject.”

In her hearing, Milstein said this incident happened more than 20 years ago. She said she doesn’t recall all the information about the case. She said she would provide the committee with a written response about the case.

What else was Milstein asked in her hearing?

She was asked about Malta’s golden passports scheme which benefits Russian oligarchs. Milstein said it is a problem in Malta and said that the Maltese government “is aware of the situation” and has upped their vetting process of applicants.

She was told that Malta is a valuable partner in terms of the refugee situation and was told that NGOs on the island have also been helpful in this regard.

She was also asked about Russian influence in Malta. Milstein said it is an issue in Malta and referred once more to the vetting process of the golden passports that she wants to support.

She was also asked about money laundering in Malta. Milstein said she looks forward to working with Malta to get it removed from the FATF greylist. Malta was eventually moved off this list.

Journalists ask to be included in talks about their future

Journalists ask to be included in talks about their future

Earlier this week, a group of journalists and other people interested in the future of journalism in Malta sent a letter to the Institute for Journalists (IGM). In this letter they asked to be included in the ongoing discussions between the IGM and the government which may affect their future.

I don’t claim to speak on behalf of any of the 40+ people that signed the letter addressed to Matthew Xuereb, President of the IGM. But since I added my name to the list of signatories, I wanted to explain why I did so. In a nutshell, it’s because I’m interested in making journalism in Malta better.

What’s this letter about?

I’m attaching a copy of the full letter below. As a brief summary, it’s signed by a group of people who are concerned about being left out of the ongoing discussions about legislative, administrative, and policy reforms in Maltese journalism that may affect their future. Since journalists don’t have any special powers and are simply representatives of the general public, these discussions also affect all the citizens of Malta. So the group of people who signed the letter also want anyone that’s interested in contributing to also be allowed to do so.

I wish I could tell you more about what the reform process entails and how it’s going. But I can’t. And that’s entirely the whole point of the letter.

The opportunity

I want all this secrecy surrounding this process to be removed. This process will only work if people interested in journalism contribute, debate, and discuss the future of journalism in Malta. Forgive me for being sceptical and wanting to see what the government’s plans for my future are, just months after the Maltese state was found responsible for the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

If we work together, we have the opportunity to offer a better service to the public. An opportunity to ask the government to be transparent. An opportunity to better hold each other accountable for the pieces that we publish. And an opportunity to learn from all the events that led up to Daphne’s assassination and its aftermath.

But so far there have been no opportunities. Only meetings held behind closed doors.

As the letter concludes, if this journalistic reform isn’t transparent, I will have no choice but to distance myself from it.

Malta’s government is desperately trying to control its Russia narrative

Malta’s government is desperately trying to control the narrative on the island about its position on Putin’s war in Ukraine. However, instead of simply taking concrete action in support of Ukraine to shake off its pro-Putin stance, it’s forcing an independent newspaper to print its hollow words.

The Maltese government’s latest tactic involves using ‘right of reply’ laws to have an independent media outlet print a response to its own editorial.

On Monday 18th April, The Malta Independent ran an editorial titled: Is Malta doing enough to sanction Russia?

You can read the editorial here. The editorial ends by saying:

“As an EU country, Malta’s response and its sanctions against the aggressor will be under the microscope.  Are we doing enough as things stand?  Let’s just say that other European countries have elected for a more pro-active approach than Malta has thus far, and leave it there.”

In a move not often used to reply to newspaper editorials, the Maltese government led by Robert Abela sent a right of reply through its Department of Information. In the reply, the government tries to assure us that it’s “fully committed” to implementing the sanctions the EU draws up.

In a nutshell, the reply confirms that the Maltese government is not willing to go above and beyond what it’s legally obliged to do when the EU collectively agrees on Russian sanctions.

Former MP and MEP Therese Comodini Cachia wasn’t impressed with the government’s latest antics either.

Instead of sending right of replies, the government could start answering questions from the media about the action it’s taking against Russia. It can start being transparent about what it’s doing to help Ukraine and what it’s doing to hinder Putin’s agenda.

While other countries expelled Russian diplomats, Malta’s only action concerning them was to improve their security. While other countries saw massive protests against the Russian invasion, Malta’s police were seen moving protest items that were left in front of the Russian embassy.

While the large majority of MEPs voted to scrap the sale of European passports, all four Maltese Labour Party MEPs, Alex Agius Saliba, Josiane Cutajar, Cyrus Engerer, and Alfred Sant, voted against, making them the only members of the S&D parliamentary group to do so.

Malta’s government knows that the world is watching. With the possibility that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky might address the Maltese Parliament via video link, the Maltese government could feel incentivized to control the local narrative about the ongoing war even tighter.

Ian Borg indecisive during first test as Foreign Minister

Malta’s new Foreign Minister Ian Borg is being indecisive as he faces his first real test in his new role.

Right now, other EU countries are taking action and started to expel dozens of Russian Diplomats. They are doing this in response to the killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers.

More than 325 diplomats and embassy workers have been expelled since Moscow invaded Ukraine, according to The Guardian. Almost 200 have been expelled from European countries this week.

EU countries that kicked out diplomats include Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Germany, and France.

France’s EU Minister Clément Beaune said that “in some territories, there are people presented as diplomats who were, or could be, threatening our essential interests.”

In light of this, I asked Malta’s Foreign Affairs Ministry for its view on the matter but I received no reply by the time this article was published.

It appears that Borg is happier playing it safe by appearing on his party’s own propaganda media outlet where he knows he won’t be challenged. It’s easier for him to do that rather than answer questions from the independent press.

The only action that Malta has taken so far about Russian diplomats is to increase their security.

Maltese journalists head to Ukraine

The Malta Independent announced that it’s sending two of its people to Ukraine.

On Facebook, The Independent announced that it’s sending Editor-in-Chief Neil Camilleri and videographer Giuseppe Attard.

Police investigate after Manuel Delia’s Russia protest article

Manuel Delia’s report about members of the Ukrainian community in Malta saying that they were warned not to attend pro-Ukraine protests sparked an investigation by Malta’s police force.

On the 11th of March Manuel Delia reported:

“Members of the Ukrainian community living in Malta have told this website they have received warnings from Maltese government officials to stay away from protests for peace called by NGO Repubblika.”

You can read his original blog post here. His story about Ukrainians being harassed was later picked up by Malta’s leading newspaper the Times of Malta.

In light of these reports, I reached out to the head of Malta’s government communications team Matthew Carbone. He failed to answer any of the questions sent to him.

I had also sent questions to the Maltese police about these threats.

After a long wait, the police finally got back to me saying that the case was investigated. However, the police claim that through their investigations they determined that “the allegations were unfounded.”

Their reply was very brief so it’s not possible to understand how and why the police reached this conclusion.

Malta still not seen as full ally by Zelensky

Malta is still not seen as a full ally by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky addressed the European Council yesterday. He named the different EU countries and indicated what level of support they were offering Ukraine.

When it was Malta’s turn, Zelensky said:

“Malta – I believe we will succeed.”

In comparison with the words reserved for other nations, it’s better than “Ireland, well, almost” but not as good as “Lithuania stands for us” for instance.

The Daily Mail interpreted Zelensky’s Malta’s comment as meaning that Malta is standing with Ukraine. But other sites described the comment as positive but vague.

Zelensky mentions Malta at around 09:37 in the video above.

One can’t blame Zelensky for having doubts about Malta. The Maltese government still hasn’t fully stopped selling passports to Russian oligarchs and the Maltese police force already moved protest items that were placed in front of the Russian embassy. Malta must and should do more to show that it’s on the right side of history.

Maltese citizens in Valletta show solidarity with Ukraine

Dozens of Maltese citizens and activists in Valletta expressed their solidarity with the people of Ukraine in light of the unjustifiable war that Russia continues to wage.

Repubblika, the organisers of the monthly vigil held in honour of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, paid tribute to Ukraine during the ceremony. They also invited a Ukrainian journalist to address the crowd in the Maltese capital.

The ruling party in Malta, the Labour Party, erected a tent that partially blocked the square where the activists expressing their solidarity with Ukraine stood. The PL’s actions continue to raise eyebrows as a number of these actions tend to favour Putin and his allies.

Repubblika President Robert Aquilina thanked all their supporters.

Maltese government doesn’t deny threatening Ukrainians

Malta’s government has not denied that it is threatening Ukrainians that join protests against Russia’s war.

The practice was first exposed by the pro-democracy and pro-Ukraine blogger Manuel Delia. The ruling party is no fan of Delia either. It recently targeted Delia by plastering his face on a billboard. This move received international condemnation.

While most of Europe is expressing solidarity with Ukraine, Delia revealed that Maltese government officials were telling Ukrainians not to join protests against the war. In the meantime, mass demonstrations in support of Ukraine have been organised around the globe.

The story about Ukrainians being harassed was later picked up by Malta’s leading newspaper the Times of Malta. The newspaper also reported that administrators of a Ukrainian community Facebook group warned members that only Malta’s government could provide them with administrative assistance.

In light of these reports, I reached out to the head of Malta’s government communications team Matthew Carbone. He failed to answer any of the questions sent to him by the time this article was published.

I sent separate questions to Malta’s police force about the threats the Ukrainians were receiving. The questions were acknowledged but the police are yet to comment on the matter.

Malta ruling party not so keen about pro-Ukraine protests

This isn’t the first time that pro-Ukraine protests in Malta have been mentioned in the press.

The editor of the Times of Malta recently Tweeted:

More on that story here.

Malta counter-terrorism police would deal with potential Russian interference

Malta’s police force said that its counter-terrorism unit would be the section in charge of dealing with threats or other interference from Russia.

On the 2nd of March, the US announced that it was setting up a KleptoCapture task force in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. According to a statement, the Task Force is authorized to investigate and prosecute any criminal offense related to conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering in and obstructing lawful government functions and money laundering among other offenses.

So far, Malta’s approach to Russia has been far softer. So I wanted to understand what Malta’s police force was doing to investigate any potential threats posed by Russia.

A few days ago I ran an online poll about this topic.

So I asked the police what they were doing.

The first question I asked was if Malta’s police were starting an investigation into Russian interference on the island.

Police Media Officer Brandon Pisani asked me to elaborate on my question.

So I started to break it down in order to prepare for future questions.

So I asked two specific questions:

  1. Who in Malta is in charge of investigating threats posed by foreign Governments?
  2. Does the Maltese police force have the tools and human resources to investigate potential attempts or successful attempts by Russia to influence any Maltese politician?

The reply from the Police was as follows:

“In line with its mission statement, the Malta Police Force strives ‘to ensure safety and security’ within Maltese jurisdiction. In pursuing this goal, our Counter-Terrorism Unit within the International Relations & Security Department works in close cooperation with other strategic partners.”

So at least we know who is in charge. But the police completely sidestepped the question about whether or not they can actually protect us from foreign threats and investigate them properly. So we’re not off to a good start, unfortunately.

Based on this initial reply by the police, I think I’ll need to ask them some more questions.