Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 17

These are tales that came into being following the brutal assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, 16th October 2017.

Stock Photo

The Land of Serenity is not only the smallest state in the European Union of Bon Accord, it is also the quietest, and so the sound of a whistle blowing is, and quite understandably, abhorred.

A woman – whose credentials were already undermined by the fact that not only was she a barrani, which alerts suspicious minds immediately, but she also hailed from a land that was once sealed off by an iron-clad curtain, a land completely riddled with traitors and spies – and this woman no less, who some would see as a disgraceful example of the weaker fairer sex, was responsible for letting out an ear-splitting piercing shrill screech which threatened to bring down all the buildings around her if this hadn’t already been done by the sledgehammers and the crowbars entrusted with the task of demolishing the worn-out pillars of serenity.

Nobody likes the sight of a woman with her cheeks puffed up with air because, let’s face it, some instruments have a more aesthetic appeal than others so there’s unlikely to be any whistles blowing during the eagerly anticipated serenade to the much loved leader of Serenity. There’ll be no penny-pinching tin-pot signs of tat and tackiness here, if you don’t mind!

Well, the Land of Serenity, like all law-abiding abodes, insists – and quite rightly – on freedom of speech and offers the highest form of protection to those who breach the peace by blowing into pipes and letting off the most excruciating of noises. Even those, dear friends, are given shelter in this haven, this tiny little safety valve for the wayward flotsam and jetsam who ebb and flow along its tides; although being a tranquil sheltered cove surrounded on all sides by water, Serenity doesn’t really have any tides and nor does it have seagulls since the Minister for Animal Welfare who is, of course, a hunter, passed a law decreeing that all our feathered friends were fair game.

So even though the woman concerned was hardly worth protecting because, let’s be honest, some lives do have more value than others and it really is more advisable to tread the well-worn pathways of the straight and excessively narrow, she was still respected for her right to squeak into that infuriating harsh-sounding whistle of hers while blowing the whole situation completely out of proportion and almost drowning out the drone of citizens quietly going about and doing their washing as she did so. Some people, most particularly barrani, do need to learn the simple art of respect.

Nevertheless, and for some strange reason best known to herself as well as certain members of the international press, the woman put down her whistle and fled from the sanctuary of Serenity, claiming, in a way that clearly exposed her guilty deceit, that her very own life was under threat.

No-one threatens anyone in Serenity. No situation will ever blow up in someone else’s face. No-one is at risk when the truth is at stake.

‘Hush hush,’ say the mothers when their children stir. ‘There’s nothing to fear. ‘Tis only the sound of dreams throwing evil witches high up into the air.’

Malta for Dummies #7: Parallel Universe

This is the 7th part of Malta for Dummies, a series I devised and wrote for The Shift News

In Malta, where everything is upside down and topsy-turvy, this guide is designed as a brief induction into the operational methods of the smallest State in the EU. The ideal dummy is visualised as a foreigner, an outsider, a barrani, a person of European origin who’s been instilled with European values since birth.


This week marks one year since the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia who rigorously exposed the extreme levels of corruption in Malta. 

To say there was a full-scale demonisation campaign mounted against her is no exaggeration. She was consistently attacked, vilified, and dehumanised so that by the time of her assassination, this process was complete. 

As a result, in public, and in an apparently ‘normal’ way, people felt free to say ‘She was a hate blogger’; ‘She said cruel things about people’; ‘She deserved it.’

Such sentiments were epitomised by a Facebook post made by a police sergeant on the day of her murder. Ramon Mifsud, exposed on Running Commentary for his appalling behaviour in a Paceville bar, ‘celebrated’ her death with the words, “Everybody gets what they deserve, cow dung”. The police inquiry into his gross misconduct is still pending and Mifsud remains suspended on half pay.

The primal nature of Mifsud’s abuse finds its medieval counterpart in the frequent reference to Caruana Galizia as “the witch of Bidnija” and she was burned to death, and her death was celebrated in Labour’s online hate groups. 

Incorporating fascist ideology, she was referred to as a “cockroach” and someone deposited cockroaches at the site of her grave. 

Towards the end of her life, the Opposition Leader derided her through his infamous phrase “bicca blogger”. The pejorative and dehumanising labelling process couldn’t have been more specific in its calculated aim and its chilling effect.

This is how demonisation works: you ostracise an individual; you isolate them verbally, physically and psychologically; you depict them as vermin and, as with any ‘infestation’, you then, and ‘justifiably’, get rid of them. 

The normal human response of shock and horror is no doubt being experienced as we speak, and this position is self-evident in the reaction of Simon Reeve in his BBC travelogue. Speaking to the journalist Manuel Delia at the site of Caruana Galizia’s death, he recoils, saying, “It’s the 21st century and on this spot, down that road, a journalist was killed with a car bomb and died in this field. It is an absolutely incredible event. It should shake the absolute pillars of society here”.

In this smallest EU state, the absolute pillars of society have been shaking with rage since the journalist’s murder, intent on crucifying any critical voices in the most literal of ways.

Utilising a considerable array of crude but effective propaganda tools (including government controlled newspapers, TV and radio stations as well as secret online Facebook groups counting many PEPs as members), the government has launched a full-scale attack on “traitors” who ‘spread devious conspiracy theories abroad’ and even influence innocuous taxi drivers as far away as South America. 

Any European could now be wondering if Malta lives in a parallel universe, which is exactly how Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described Opposition MP Simon Busuttil when, in a parliamentary debate more akin to a brawl, Busuttil asserted that he still believes that Muscat or his wife owns Panama company Egrant. 

The magisterial inquiry was by a report filed by the Prime Minister’s lawyers, which ensured that no evidence could be found to link him or his wife to Egrant, the removal of evidence being something for which the now defunct Mossack Fonseca are renowned and a staple ingredient of money laundering. 

The numerous and transparent flaws in using the Egrant report to absolve the government – bearing in mind the government is using its own inquiry for its own absolution – become more ludicrous given that the Justice Minister said he was acting as the Prime Minister’s “legal counsel”. 

This same Justice Minister, spokesperson for a government resisting a public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination, has no qualms in saying that “we did everything we could to solve the murder.” 

He said this two days after La Repubblica revealed further links between the Economy Minister and those accused of the assassination. Chris Cardona dismissed these links as “smears” and a counter campaign was set in motion. 

In a parallel universe replete with hubris, cynicism and gaping irony, Muscat delivered an attack on Busuttil exemplary of Orwellian doublethink: “Someone who believed a lie was a liar, and someone who backed a fraud was a fraudster”.  

Whatever ‘flat earth’ theory the Labour Party espouses, there remains one stark, awful and indisputable fact which, only within the logic of a medieval witch trial, brands us heretics and traitors if we refuse to forget: “A year ago, we lived in a country where a journalist was unbearably harassed. Now we live in a country where a journalist has been killed.” 

This week in this country, press freedom organisations have been out in force in the shape of Reporters Without Borders, PEN International, the European Federation of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and the International Press Institute. The parallel universe of ‘serenity’ concocted by Muscat’s government acquires a very different hue in the light of their damning report. 

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 16

These are tales that came into being following the brutal assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, 16th October 2017.

mickey mouse orchestra

Having previously delved into the cultural quagmire of musical fiddlesticks in the very latest installment of these almost unbelievable tales, things have just got a whole lot more exciting. The white-clad citizens are veritably shaking their robes in anticipation and brushing off the thick layers of dust which have accumulated on their blue suede shoes due to the somewhat manic levels of construction work occurring all around them.

But there’ll be no feet of clay at THIS party! This is an occasion to outdo all and it’s being hosted by Serenity’s very own and oh-so-devoted Philharmonic Orchestra in dedication to – and yes, our lips are quivering, nay, trembling at the thought! – in honour of – and in tribute to – and see how the white-clad citizens lie prostrate in reverential prayer that they, yes, they, the humble and docile dogsbodies of this loyal and law-abiding land – they pray that they may get their money-grubbing paws on a ticket which is worth much more than its weight in mere transitory gold – a paper ticket that can be shredded like so many other useless documents that should have been retained by the Police Commissioner and his comrades but who cares now in this ecstatic bonanza of delight? – Who cares about the past when we can live in an eternal whitewashed present? – Who cares about yesterday’s papers when we can write our history anew? – Who cares about insinuations that all is not as it should be in this joyful land of serenity when we, the citizens, can lay down at the altar of – of – of – in all this excitement, I forgot to mention – how could anyone be so remiss? – I forgot to say because the words are tumbling out fast and furiously across the page and spewing forth in a gush-guddle of half-digested Gozitan cheese – but Ladies and Gentlemen – Oh peaceful protectors of this pedestrian plateau of providence – this concert – practiced and performed by the obedient servants of this state of serendipity – is in honour of no less, and no other than, the only man we would gladly lay down our lives for. The only man who we place above all others in this sacred space where all of us live in accordance with our ability and in solemn accordance with our needs, while acknowledging, of course, that some people’s needs are much greater than others and that we shouldn’t really question this because sometimes it allows for making money on the side, which isn’t a form of corruption but more a quaint little nuance of the serenest way of life.

Serenity is soon to be epitomised in all its glory and every musician worth his (or her) salt will be fine-tuning their instruments of worship and running up and down their scales to do justice to this magnificent event. Every musician, that is, apart from those who were threatened with the minor inconvenience of having their job removed if they insisted on breaching the peace in front of the leader’s palace by playing tunes which would have reminded people, when no-one wants to be reminded, that a journalist was assassinated in the Land of Serenity, blown up in a car bomb in the far-off countryside. Given the musicians’ compliance in this matter, it’s hoped that some of them may be rewarded with complimentary tickets for the forthcoming and much lauded event.

Already bets and under-the-table deals are being placed on which tunes will top the leader’s playlist, on which ditties and dirges will reveal his hidden tastes. For our leader is a man of untold mysteries and no leaks will spoil the necessary secrecy leading up to what will surely be a gala evening demonstrating our erudite leader’s profound level of musical knowledge, just as he has such profound and erudite knowledge in every other sphere. For our leader is flawless and, taken together, his deftly chosen repertoire can only culminate in perfect harmony! This is a man who knows the difference between a fiddle and a flugelhorn!

A high level of security will inevitably be in place in the days leading up to this much-awaited concert; a high level of security mirroring that which occurred when a well-known female journalist was murdered by a car bomb and two well-meaning officers of the law limped listlessly on to the scene, struggling beneath the weight of one single but unwieldy fire extinguisher.

A high level of security will ensure that this becomes a triumphant musical extravaganza, a fantasia on the theme of glorious fantasy, with fanfares to stir up every national passion, as the rise and swell of an uplifting crescendo drowns out the discord and dissonance of some plaintive elegy.

Malta for Dummies #6

Malta for Dummies is a series I wrote for The Shift News, an independent online news portal that emerged in Malta, a European country where many media outlets are owned and controlled by the government.


In Malta, where everything is upside down and topsy-turvy, this guide is designed as a brief induction into the operational methods of the smallest State in the EU. The ideal dummy is visualised as a foreigner, an outsider, a barrani, a person of European origin who’s been instilled with European values since birth. Our weekly articles are aimed at helping you to (somehow) get ‘Malta’. This instalment is about Chris Cardona, or the Minister of Economical Truth.

As in other European democracies, various government ministers assume different roles and responsibilities. In last week’s instalment, we focused on Owen Bonnici, the Minister for Justice and Culture who is a threat to both.

This week, we introduce Economy Minister Chris Cardona to see how he far he ‘measures up to the job’ (this distasteful double entendre will become clear).

In a statement made a few days after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Cardona said, “Our job is to empower the business community”.

Exactly who this ‘business community’ is and the precise nature of this ‘empowerment’ was cast into question in terms of what follows.

In January 2017, only months before her untimely murder, Caruana Galizia reportedthat the Economy Minister had been seen in a brothel in Germany along with his aide, Joe Gerada, while on official government business.

Soon after, both men not only filed libel suits against her but made the unprecedented move of imposing a garnishee order, freezing her financial assets to the tune of €47,460. As Caruana Galizia observed when she received this news:

“It should be clear to anyone that the Minister for the Economy and his EU presidency policy officer have not filed precautionary warrants on my assets because they are confident that they will win their cases (rather the opposite), obtain the maximum damages, and that I will not have the resources to pay them, but because they wish to harass me for what I have reported about them, obtain revenge, punish me and – beyond that – also silence others who have picked up the story. The idea is to create what the European Court of Human Rights, in its judgements on freedom of the press matters, calls a ‘chilling effect’”.

This ‘chilling effect’ reached its horrific extreme when, eight months later, she was silenced by a massive car bomb while driving to the bank in an effort to access her blocked bank accounts.

After her brutal murder, the libel case continued along with so many others filed by politicians, including the Prime Minister and Silvio Debono who, against fierce public resistance, has just been given permission to build a massive commercial tower block on after he was given public land at St George’s Bay.

In the case involving Cardona, his aide followed suit his master’s footsteps and dropped the case last week. As a result, phone records showing the whereabouts of these two Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) while on political business were prevented from being made public.

It later emerged that Cardona had been seen drinking in a bar with one of the accused, and reports later also put him at a bachelor’s party with the same individual. Just as he refuted allegations he had been in a brothel, so too Cardona denied any association with the suspected assassin and, presumably on the basis of his word and his position as Economy Minister, was spared from having to undergo any form of police interrogation.

Unfortunately for the Economy Minister, recent investigations showed he had been economical with the truth. On Monday, La Repubblica reported that on 29 June 2017, four months before the assassination, Cardona attended a bachelor’s party where he met Alfred Degiorgio, the lead assassin in the murder trial.

Phone records are again paramount in terms of linking the Economy Minister with criminality. Unnamed by La Repubblica, Pierre Darmanin, previously investigated for fuel smuggling, phoned Caruana Galizia in October 2016, before calling Cardona then Degiorgio.

Just as the ‘brothelgate’ records have been detained at His Government’s Pleasure, so, too, the government withheld these call logs from the murder inquiry, despite the magistrate’s written requests for them.

Amid incriminating phone calls and bachelor parties, you would be forgiven for anticipating news of the Minister’s resignation alongside criminal proceedings. Instead, and in that now familiar way of making unsubstantiated claims, Cardona released a statement maintaining that ‘these smears are highly damaging and false.’

During a Parliamentary debate, and in a desperate fit of whataboutism, he asserted that ‘everybody knew that people who were lawyers or politicians, or indeed, lawyers and politicians, were invited to events where many other people were present, some of whom may not be of good character.’

The Economy Minister was previously a criminal lawyer and represented Vincent Muscat, another of the suspects in the Caruana Galizia murder trial. The particular business community he’s empowering needs to be called into question as, of course, does he.

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 15

These are tales that came into being following the brutal assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, 16th October 2017.


Where style, taste and discernment are concerned, some people are, quite simply, beyond criticism. Such could be said for Manuchehr Ahadphur Khanagh, a humble millonaire of modest origins who was – nay, most likely still is – an intimate friend of the Aliyev family, another delightful example of Serenity’s emphasis on kinship and the bonds of brotherhood.

The Aliyev family have a rich and colourful history as leaders of a democratic dynasty reliant on deconstructing the outdated notion of human rights, reintroducing the concept of corruption as a mode of common currency, using a lighting rig so the family remains in the spotlight at election times, and putting quite harsh yet necessary measures in place to deal with those who suggest the regime may be totalitarian, dictatorial and inhumane. Oh, there are always legal eagle beavers to contend with, such as lawyers advocating humanitarian treatment for each and every member of society, and journalists who consistently poke their noses in as Serenity knows and to its peril. Goodness, where the law’s concerned there’s just no pleasing some people!

The Aliyev family from Azerbaijan have a friend called Khangah, or Renaissance Man. And Azerbaijan and Renaissance Man have a penchant for places like Serenity’s land. Its slipshod terrain and its slippery stones make the Land of Serenity a land they call home.

And call it home they did.

Now if you remember, way back in Part 2, there was a man who remained nameless becasue everyone knew his name was Keith Schembri. There was also a man on whom we took pity because he was forced to resign from his eminent position at the Malta Institute of Accountants because, if he didn’t, he would be subjected to unjustifiable and incriminating disciplinary investigations by those accountants who he once thought were his friends. But friendship is a curious creature which shifts and changes shape at the slightest movement of the tide. Poor Mr Brian Tonna was forced to walk away in shame, his pockets heavy with gold and his heart weighed down with worries about what name he’d choose for his next money-making little venture.

The only names he could think of had already been taken by his esteemed friend and veritable man of culture, the Renaissance Man. In 2015, this modest millionaire opened up a symphonic sequence of investment holding companies respectfully named after classical composers who would surely not be turning in their graves if they knew. A melodic melange of musicality with an appropriately cerebral ring, these orchestral fiddles of the financial section rose in unison to form a sonata and a serenade within Serenity.

One account was called Bach – a fantasia and fugue. Another was named Beethoven, which was such an Ode to Joy. Yet another was named Mozart, with a nod to his magical flute, and Puccini wasn’t left to perish like his Madam Butterfly. The alliteration of Verdi and Vivaldi completed the six accounts which should have weathered the four seasons but were ripped open in an untimely manner just before the 12 month period elapsed when the contents of these compositions should have confronted a statutory audit. But alas! The awaited for crescendo was cut short and the climax never came! The security boxes lay empty, deadly silent and forlorn. All that is solid had melted into air although legend has it that the cockroach seen scuttling away as the vaults were opened was actually the conductor’s baton which, via the laws of metamorphosis and mischief, had been transformed into something other than it used to be. So many tricks up so many sleeves!

Mr Brian Tonna, an aficionado of all things sublime, including Keith Schembri, had, as one would expect, extended a courteous hand to Mr so Renaissance Man and, under a cloak of invisibility, led him through the trustworthy pillars of Pilatus Bank, a bank who have now become a household thanks to the aptly titled Paradise Papers (still being sued for copyright by Serenity on the grounds of libelous similarity).

Pilatus Bank. A financial institution once called into question by a journalist who deigned to suggest that it was not the local friendly high street bank it pertained to be but that its stocks included large quantites of washing powder and even larger quantities of fabric softener because nobody likes discomfort pricking at their skin.

In the soft and comforting pastoral known as Serenity, in the quiet pastures of rural tranquility, an explosion went off in the middle of an afternoon in which a woman, and a journalist, was not quietly killed, in a landscape in which, if there had been any sheep, their fleeces might once have been sheared, spun and dyed in order to disguise their original identity. As it was, the good little people of Serenity wrapped their delicate fresh garments around themselves, soothed by the fragrant and white white wool being pulled, hypnotically, over their eyes.

Malta for Dummies #5

This is the fifth part of a series I created and wrote for The Shift News: Malta for Dummies.

Owen Bonnici

Last week’s instalment of Malta for Dummies placed culture under the spotlight, with particular focus on Jason Micallef, chairman of V18, in charge of the heavily criticised and, in some cases, boycotted Valletta European Capital of Culture.

The theme of culture continues, introducing the Ministry for Justice and Culture. At first glance, this might appear an anomaly and this reaction intensifies when considering the Minister himself, Owen Bonnici, in charge of both judicial and cultural affairs on this tiny European island.

As part of his remit in ensuring the democratic functioning of law, order and all manner of cultural activities, Bonnici also takes responsibility for the Cleansing Services Department, crucial in a country proud of the slime on its beaches and the black clouds of smoke bellowing out of its recycling plant and dumpsite, not to mention the dust that covers an island weighed down with construction on which litter settles due to a dearth of bins. You could say waste is a distinguishing feature of Maltese culture.

Bonnici’s name will already be familiar to those following this series so we’ll just call him Owen. He ordered a non-violent display of candles and flowers to be removed from a barricaded monument in front of the Law Courts, an ongoing site of protest since the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia almost one year ago. In case you’d forgotten, Owen was the one who oversaw the barricading of the monument without any supporting documents such as a Restoration Method Statement.

Alongside his responsibilities as arbiter of justice, Owen, it transpires, has extended his remit to ensure that any unsightly allegations made against his boss – otherwise known as the Prime Minister – can be soothed away in a sort of pillow talk manner defined as ‘legal counsel’.

Another intimate friend of the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, testified in court last week that he had a copy of the magisterial inquiry been e-mailed to Owen. At the same time, the AG argued against the Opposition leader’s demands to be given a copy of the full Egrant report, currently being redacted by the subject of this inquiry, Joseph Muscat.

The report is likely to also be in the hands of two of Muscat’s closest aides facing allegations of money launderering also named in the report, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Although Malta is known for its incestuous code of ethics, even our dumbstruck European dummy must be getting a little bored of repeatedly hearing the same old names.

The role of the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, as stipulated in their mission statement, is ‘to promote the development of a secure, just and inclusive society where every citizen’s rights and freedoms are safeguarded in an equitable and secure environment.’ Yet the safeguarding of ‘every citizen’s rights and freedoms’ has been placed under threat by the Minister for Justice and Culture himself.


Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 14

bacchic revelry

These are tales that came into being following the brutal assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, 16th October 2017.

In the never-never land of somewhere else, a somewhere else which has no right to interfere with the quaint well-trodden pathways of serenity, a rather large number of relatively important people – 466 to be precise – began to trample over the treadmill of tranquility, suggesting (God forbid!) that here, in this Land of Serenity, all was not quite as it seemed.

A rather large number of relatively important people – 466 to be precise – launched an assault on the trappings of serenity in what resembled, if the word may be used, a witch-hunt. Although hatred was unknown to the god-fearing law-abiding citizens of serenity, witches were, to put it mildly, hated. And rightly so. Their potent spells were forever throwing a spanner into the works and getting in the way of those who were simply trying to go about their daily affairs in a devil-may-care kind of way.

Not only did the devil care but so did a rather large number of relatively important people – 466 to be precise – passing a resolution on the rule of law in the Land of Serenity which called into question every single thing which had been taken for granted about how to conduct your financial transactions in a roundabout way.

This inevitably upset the good citizens, not to mention its equally fine upstanding leaders who had given nothing but gifts to the people of this land. Everybody was more than happy to rub each other’s backs because this ensured the greatest good for the greatest number and, by default, kept the land free from the barbaric and uncivilised forces of witchcraft, sorcery and black magic – although these were permitted during the festas which only lasted the entire duration of the summer and where the normal respectful worship of religious saints was gleefully overturned in a Bacchic spectacle of idolatry.

But the Land of Serenity prided itself on its lack of normality. ‘Only in Malta’ was its motto, an amusing banner under which everything could be excused: for example, extreme selfishness and recklessness when behind the wheel; turning a blind eye to domestic violence, drug-dealing, and the occasional instances of Mafia killings; the incessant granting of permits for buildings which caused neighbouring houses to subside, obliterated the heritage of serenity’s soil, placed chapels in which the plaster saints were worshipped in perilous danger or, if you were lucky, all three.

‘Only in Malta’ was the jolly refrain and who would have the heart to undermine such self-deprecating acceptance of a nation’s little quirks?

A rather large number of relatively important people, it seems. 466 to be precise. Why, oh why, are there those who fail to understand that idiosyncrasy is the life force of serenity? Its raison d’etre, its modus operandi, its elixir? Why are there those who want to poke their noses into other people’s private business (466 noses to be precise)? Who are these moaning Minnies and Jeremiahs – precisely all 466 of them – who refuse, with jeering cat-calls and the sound of boos, to acknowledge the unquestioned and legitimate status of serenity in which the rule of law as laid down by tradition is, and always must be, a law unto itself?