This column first appeared in Malta Today
Now that everyone has had a chance to smirk, giggle and produce countless memes and even songs about the infamous leaked Rosianne Cutajar /Yorgen Fenech chats, I think we need to get serious about this tragicomedy.
First of all, can we PLEASE stop dragging gender into issues which are completed unrelated? Ms Cutajar is not being mocked and ridiculed because she is a woman, but because of her role as an MP. In this legislature she was not even elected to her seat, because she only got there by means of a casual election, so that is a slap in the face of that mechanism if there ever was one.
Secondly, let’s leave aside the salacious part of the chats (which provided so much mirth and fodder for satire), because the real issue here is that the chats revealed her true nature. By her own admission, she is clearly mercenary and is only in politics for one thing only – to pig out and grab as much as she can “like everyone else is doing”. The snag, of course, is that the consultancy she was angling for comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets – remember that the next time you receive your Income Tax Return and obediently file your taxes like a good citizen.
Of course, this revelation is nothing new – we have been accusing them for going into politics to line their own pockets for years and this simply confirms it. Yet, seeing it written on black and white like this, I can only feel stunned astonishment at how blasé and matter-of-fact she is about her motives. This, more than anything else, is where our focus should lie.
This new breed of politicians seems to be have been born with a missing moral compass, and the abuse of power is so in your face that it takes your breath away; so much so that it does not even occur to Rosianne Cutajar that her behaviour is completely inappropriate (and here I am not talking about the affair). To read the texts is to read into the mind of a very ambitious, driven young woman who sounds like a shameless gold digger as she tries to wheedle financial backing from a rich businessman. She accepted an expensive gift and a commission for brokering a property deal and in return she offered to “help him out” as well, which she did when she defended him at the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly over his ownership of 17 Black. That’s what friends are for, right?
Her restlessness and frustration at being skipped over for a Cabinet post led her to be indiscreet as she openly talked about what was going on behind the scenes. This is where the affair with someone like Fenech breaches all kinds of ethics and demonstrates the too cosy relationship which he had with those in the seat of power. These leaked chats are damning not because of the nudge nudge wink wink sexual content but because a powerful entrepreneur had such easy access to a lot of sensitive, political information. On her part she was using her influence to protect him, while at the same time trying to manipulate him into helping her with her ambitions.
The chats also reveal her very poor judgement: not only did she write things on What’s App which he could have used to blackmail her, but there was a complete lack of foresight that the chats might fall into the wrong hands. In fact, when Yorgen Fenech was later arrested, accused of commissioning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, his mobile was seized by the Police and that is why these transcripts exist.
One could say they were using each other, but in the end, the brokerage fee cost her the Cabinet post which she finally got in 2020 (although she remained a backbencher) and now with these leaked chats, she has been further disgraced in the realm of public opinion. This brings me to the fact that the transcripts were published in their entirety, which included references to the intimate relationship. I admit to having mixed feelings about this deliberate decision to humiliate her; while on the one hand I found the private, personal details an unnecessary, unsavoury intrusion, on the other hand I have realised that for a lot of people it was a grim Schadenfreude to see someone who has been taking us for a ride for so long, finally getting her comeuppance.
Let us also not forget the salient point that she brought this on herself by suing author Mark Camilleri for libel when he claimed in his book that she had an affair with Yorgen to help further her political career and that Fenech had given her “corrupt money” – Camilleri simply called her bluff.
That is the thing about suing for defamation: you have to be 100% sure you can prove that the other person has lied about you, and you have to be doubly sure you have no uncomfortable, potentially more damaging skeletons in your closet which can come out in Court. She was foolishly misguided on both counts: not only did she lie about the affair, but the implications of what emerged from those texts was arguably far worse than a few steamy messages.
Predictably, the sexy chats have tapped into people’s love of gossip, but once again I must point out that gender has nothing to do with it. The public was equally “entertained” when the fake piety of someone like Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, who had campaigned so heatedly against divorce, was exposed by his own wife when she told the world that he was having an affair. I also remember a similar public reaction in 2001 when the then Police Commissioner George Grech was found to be having an affair, a scandal whose details were covered extensively by the press. The hilarity and ridicule were the same as they are in this case.
This is why the claim of misogyny is so completely unwarranted, and the Prime Minister should know better than to try and play that card, especially in this case. I also find it mind-boggling for him to tell us that Rosianne Cutajar has already paid the price because she was removed from her post as Parliamentary Secretary. Excuse me, but many of us do not want someone like that as a sitting MP, being paid from our taxes “representing” us. She should resign and go find herself a job on her own steam, like everyone else. I would say the same thing if she were a man, and in fact I have done so many times. Some people are simply not fit for office; they do not have the integrity, the gravitas nor the principles to serve the nation, let alone to be addressed by the title “Honourable”.
The sooner there is a clean sweep of these types, the better it will be for all of us.
There is another aspect to this whole story, which is whether legally, Mark Camilleri had the right to have these chats in his possession in the first place and whether he was within his rights to leak them. He published them on his website on the eve of the continuation of the libel case which Cutajar had filed against him (he says it is because someone else had dowloaded them from his site, but I am wondering whether he would have even been allowed to exhibit them in Court.)
The public and legal spat between the two of them had been building up for a while – he had been warning her that unless she resigned, he would be her “worst nightmare” and humiliate her. She claimed in Court that he was threatening her and that she felt unsafe.
Following the leaks, Cutajar’s lawyers filed an urgent application before the criminal court, and for once (unlike for mere mortals), the Courts and the Police acted with uncharacteristic speed. Camilleri is now being charged with contempt of court and of breaching a Court order dated November 2021 which banned the release of any information found on devices seized from Yorgen Fenech.
Cutajar’s lawyers are arguing that “such transcripts were solely in the State’s possession to be used for the purpose of preventing and investigating crimes. Allowing their dissemination for any other purpose extraneous to the Caruana Galizia murder case amounted to a breach of Cutajar’s fundamental rights to respect for private family life and personal correspondence.” If found guilty, Camilleri can be jailed for up to one month and fined up to €4,000.
The other argument is one which has gathered momentum in the public domain: that the chats are in the public interest and Camilleri did the nation a great service in his “publish and be damned” moment. If he is arrested, it will definitely be another blow to an already teetering administration. It is becoming more and more evident that, in the light of last week’s dismal survey results, this latest scandal means that what seemed like an unassailable Labour majority will continue to plummet as more evidence of corrupt, abusive behaviour comes to light.
Unless Abela wakes up and takes a firm grip over his Cabinet and backbenchers, the swell of justifiable anger will continue to grow. And he would be incredibly foolish to assume that the anger and disgust is only coming from his opponents.