Business, politics and transparency

The Times of Malta, Tuesday 27th September 2011

By Arnold Cassola

It is heartening to read that a number of Libyan and Maltese businessmen have the issue of transparency and ethical business dealings at heart. On September 16, Mokhtar Aziz, the president of the Malta-based Arab European Forum for Development and Dialogue declared that his association was drawing up an “honours list” that would be “considered” when business opportunities arise in Libya.
It is the public’s right to know the names of all those involved in shady dealings with the Libyan regime…
– Arnold Cassola

Dr Aziz stressed that he was expecting a “new era and business environment in Libya and was hoping for more transparency, a far cry from the climate under the Gaddafi regime, where corruption controlled every aspect of life. The forum’s aim was to establish relations to facilitate cooperation between institutions, individuals and companies, he said, insisting that transparency has to guide everything in the new Libya”.

Dr Aziz’s appeal comes at a timely moment since it seems that in Malta neither Lawrence Gonzi’s government nor Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party want to open up Pandora’s Box with a view to revealing the names of those Maltese people who, in the past, had shady dealings with the Gaddafi family, regime and entourage. It would seem that it is in the interest of both the PN and PL leaderships not to open up a can of worms which might contain names unimagined involved in dealings with Col Gaddafi.

Instead, it is in the interest of democracy and transparency in our country that things are made very clear to one and all, especially more so in view of what has been revealed abroad and alleged in Malta in the past few weeks.

Let us start with the question of the Libyan government and Col Gaddafi family’s assets in Malta. After some time dilly-dallying on the issue, the Maltese government decided in July to freeze these assets, probably spurred on by (rightful!) pressure and decisions of the other EU member states and the UN sanctions. Initially, despite the queries of a few of us, the Maltese government kept mum on the quantities of assets and moneys frozen.

It took a whole month for the government to finally go public with the amounts of money that Malta had frozen. On August 25 we all finally realised that our country had frozen a staggering total of €377 million in Libyan government assets, of which €86 million belonged to the Gaddafi family or entities in which they were majority stakeholders. Basically, according to The Times, €291 million belonged to Libyan companies hit by UN and EU sanctions and the rest to the Gaddafi family or companies in which the family had a majority shareholding.

I and a few (very few!) others have been asking to know where all this money is deposited, who are the Maltese partners in these business ventures and especially in those controlled by the Gaddafi family. I do not want to see any of the Maltese people involved in past suspect business dealings with Col Gaddafi’s cronies being appointed chairmen of Maltese parastatal authorities or corporations, ambassadors or what not or, even worse, presenting themselves as candidates for political elections.

It would be totally detrimental to our country, apart from being immoral, for these people to be given leading roles in our national institutions. Yet, both the PN and the PL leadership have kept silent on all this, and do not want to rock the boat.

At least somebody in the PL does not agree with this silence. On September 11, former Prime Minister Alfred Sant came up with two very serious allegations. According to him, a former Libyan Foreign Minister had stated confidentially that it seemed to him that people high up in the Nationalist government seemed to be demanding having mano in pasta in Maltese-Libyan business ventures. Basically, they were using their public positions for personal gain. A second accusation levelled by Dr Sant is that Libyan funds were invested in the pro-EU membership referendum campaign in 2003.

In a normal democratic country the people and the establishment would be up in arms demanding a public inquiry into such serious allegations. Who was the Libyan Foreign Minister? Who were his Maltese PN counterparts? Which Libyans invested Libyan money in the Yes campaign? Who received this Libyan money in Malta? Instead, here in Malta we have absolute silence on the part of Dr Gonzi and Dr Muscat. Certainly an example of mutual omertà at its best.

And even the CIA revelations on the Maltese spies paid by the Libyans to act on their behalf at Luqa airport have been met with deafening silence on the part of Drs Gonzi and Muscat. A CIA cable of January 1989 has mentioned by name Sergeant Marju, another police officer and duty officer all working in the interests of their Libyan paymasters.

Of course the CIA might be just lying through its throat but is it not in our country’s interest to ensure the veracity of such reports? Of course, it is. It is the public’s right to know the names of all those involved in shady dealings with the Libyan regime to ensure that in the future none of them occupy leading positions in our country.

Instead, the PN and the PL leadership do not want to stir the hornet’s nest and are hushing things down. Why are they scared of bringing to light any illicit Maltese dealings with the Gaddafi regime?

Something is very very rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark.

Prof. Cassola is Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman on EU and international affairs.