Joseph Muscat: The Maltese Prime Minister tarnished by scandal

Muscat won popularity for his economic successes, but image unravelled after anti-corruption journalist was killed.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after an urgent Cabinet meeting at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta November 29, 2019
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat led his party to two sucessive election victories but his image unravelled amid allegations of corruption and the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

Joseph Muscat became Malta‘s prime minister in 2013 at the age of 39 and remained in power despite corruption scandals that dogged him and his associates.

Born on January 22, 1974, in the town of Pieta, Muscat studied at a Jesuit school and went on to be awarded a doctorate from Bristol University in the United Kingdom.

He began his career as a journalist, working for the Labour Party’s media arm between 1992 and 1997.

Despite having previously expressed opposition to Malta’s entry into the European Union, Muscat was elected to the European Parliament in 2004.

He later resigned and became the head of the Labour Party in 2008.

Many saw Muscat as being too green and brash when he became prime minister, but he succeeded in winning over both the old guard and the younger members in the party.

“When he came to power, Muscat by many was considered too young, too go-getting, too self-assured,” a local newspaper has said, adding however that he injected a “fresh feeling” into the party.

He was re-elected in June 2017 with an overwhelming majority, on the back of sound economic results which saw the tiny Mediterranean island enjoy an economic growth rate three times the EU average and an unemployment rate of a mere 3.4 percent.

It was the first time since independence from the UK in 1964 that the Labour Party had won two successive elections in Malta.

Image unravels

Muscat had called the snap legislative elections after some if his associates were accused of corruption by investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galicia had also alleged that Muscat’s wife Michelle owned a shell company established by Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. 

Malta Galizia car wreckage
The wreckage of the car of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated corruption and was killed in 2017. The escalating murder investigation rocked the government of Joseph Muscat [Rene Rossignaud/AP Photo]

Muscat’s image started unravelling after Caruana Galizia died in a car bombing in October 2017 near her home.

Three men – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their fifties – have been charged with triggering the bomb in her car.

The escalating murder investigation has rocked the island and claimed high-level scalps, with two ministers and Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, stepping down from their posts.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Valletta on Friday after Muscat refused to give immunity to the main suspect in the 2017 murder, tycoon Yorgen Fenech – charged on Saturday with complicity in the mother-of-three’s killing – to disclose what he knows.

Fenech is the owner of 17 Black, a company based in Dubai that was allegedly set up to transfer money to the Panamanian companies – Hearnville Inc and Tillgate Inc – owned by former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat’s former Chief of Staff Schembri.

Malta Muscat
Protesters carry posters mocking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi nine months after Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing [Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters]

In a nationally televised speech announcing his plan to step down, Muscat made no link with Caruana Galizia’s killing, saying he was resigning “as this is what needs to be done”.

“As prime minister, I promised two years ago that justice would be done in the case of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia,” Muscat said. “Today, I am here to tell you that I kept my word.”

Source: AFP