Wednesday 18 July 2018

The one that got away

This article first appeared on Malta Today

No one seems to know where she is (except the people of Facebook, of course, many of whom are apparently endowed with superpowers which enable them to know everything simply from reading a headline).

I am referring, of course, to the ‘Russian whistleblower’ as she has come to be known; the woman who revealed that the mysterious owner of an offshore company called Egrant allegedly belongs to the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat. As everyone knows, this revelation set the ball rolling for a magisterial inquiry into the allegations and also led to this year’s early election.

Only now, this woman has left the island before the inquiry has been concluded and, inevitably, the conjectures and speculation bouncing back and forth are as varied as a packet of Smarties and you can have your pick of the one which fits your own conspiracy theory, political bias or penchant for melodrama.

▪ some say she has fled because she was in fear for her life after what she revealed
▪ others that she was paid off to ‘disappear’ (either because she was not telling the truth or because she was, take your pick)
▪ others claim she is a fraudster and a con artist who realized she was in over her head and made a run for it (and had to have been helped and abetted, since she had no passport)
▪ some have even alleged that she has been killed

One must also bear in mind, of course, that this same woman had a court case brought against her by the police for making false accusations against them, and a lawsuit which she filed against her previous employer Pilatus Bank, whom she claimed never paid her. On its part, the bank filed a police report against the woman, charging her with fraud for allegedly using unauthorized bank funds to pay for flights for her husband and children. It was at this point that she was interrogated by the police and her passport was taken away, after which she made what turned out to be false accusations against the arresting officers.

The former case was won by the police and the latter cases, as far as I know, are still ongoing.

It was her failure to show up for her court appearances, in fact, which first alerted the Court to the possibility that she had fled, leading the magistrate to issue an order for her to be brought to Court under arrest. According to a news report,
“Her defence lawyer, Daniel Buttigieg, informed the court that he had been unable to contact his client since June. She had changed lawyers and had told the court that she was going to pay her previous lawyer, but had failed to do so, he said.”

As it turned out she also failed to pay her rent: “The last time the landlord spoke to the woman’s husband was on July 21 when he called at the apartment to take water and electricity readings. Apparently both his wife and children had been away for some time…The landlord said that he had last seen the woman some three months ago. She had sent him an email on July 31 saying her family had found itself subject to intimidation and needed to leave Malta urgently. She promised to send the keys by mail and settle outstanding bills and rent amounting to €1,795. However, to date, he had not received the keys or the money.”

This convoluted case has brought into play a very crucial element on which everything hinges: credibility. We see this all the time in nail biting courtroom dramas – how the defence does everything in its power to shred to pieces the credibility of a star witness because everything ultimately rests on the essential question of who is most likely to be telling the truth based on their believability. Only this is not TV, but real life, despite the fact that when I describe the sequence of events to people who do not live in Malta, even to my own ears, it sounds more and more like something straight out Hollywood . (But then again, I look at Trump on TV and still cannot wrap my head around the fact that he is the US President, so truth is stranger than fiction everywhere you look).

In the testimony I read of the proceedings of the case which Pilatus Bank instituted against the woman about her claims that she was not paid, there is a lot of “he said, she said”. At times it is her testimony which seems to be the most credible (also backed by the fact that she was not on the bank’s official payroll nor was she listed as an employee with JobsPlus) and at times the bank seems to be more believable, especially when it produced SMS texts from her, showing that she was, in fact, paid in cash.

Many have pointed out that it is quite plausible that she was being intimidated and felt unsafe – yes, I agree, this could be true, especially as a dreaded ‘foreigner’ who, quite frankly, precipitated not only an election but rocked the foundations of the country with the sheer force of this alleged political scandal.

And yet, the fact that she left a trial of debts (perhaps not amounting to excessive amounts, but debts just the same) make me wonder. Would it have been so difficult before leaving, to simply pay the lawyers who were, after all, on her side? And why leave her landlord high and dry? Write a couple of cheques, arrange for a bank transfer, or simply hand over the cash – if someone wants to pay what they owe, it really is not that difficult. In the same time it took her to write that email on 31 July, she could have easily affected said payments.
In my book anyone who does a runner and leaves third parties out of pocket just leaves me with a feeling of distaste and speaks volumes about their character. As it is, she has come out of this looking like the fraudster which others have claimed her to be, and she has not helped her own case at all. On the contrary, it has simply given additional ammunition to those who want to discredit her completely.

As for the original allegation which brought this woman to public notice, what keeps nagging at me is this. If, as she claims, “she came across documents of trust in the name of Michelle Muscat decided to scan them and keep them,” then the logical question is, why didn’t she just hands these original, authentic documents over to the Magistrate as soon as she was called to testify?

I’m no lawyer, but common sense tells me that would have wrapped up the inquiry pretty quickly.

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