Sunday, July 31, 2011 , by Christian Peregin
Labour leader Joseph Muscat has downplayed the criminal case being faced by Cyrus Engerer as a personal issue on which the Sliema deputy mayor should not be solely judged.
Dr Muscat defended Mr Engerer from the start even as the extent of his charges became clearer. Mr Engerer is accused of e-mailing pornographic photos of his ex-boyfriend to his employer to spite him, after their acrimonious break-up.
“People are judged not on single personal decisions, including highly emotional situations such as these, but on their track record,” he told The Sunday Times.
Asked whether he would react in the same way as the Prime Minister if one of his ministers faced similar charges, he reiterated his position that this was a private matter which had nothing to do with politics.
“We think some issues are strictly in the private realm. In the past few years there were at least two clear instances where prominent members of the government and the Nationalist Party were involved in issues which we deemed were of a purely personal nature.
“We responsibly decided this is a red line which should not be crossed in Maltese politics, even though in one case there was an admission to criminal charges.”
Dr Muscat said he was saddened by the fact that Mr Engerer’s ex-boyfriend Marvic Camilleri was “exposed nationally” when this issue looked like it would have been solved amicably within the context of a renewed friendship.
On Friday, Mr Camilleri told The Times he and his employers wanted justice, even though he was willing to forgive Mr Engerer for what he had done.
Meanwhile, Dr Muscat said “far too many coincidences” had occurred since Mr Engerer exercised his freedom of expression to join Labour. Days after Mr Engerer resigned from the PN, the police arrested his father for marijuana possession. A few days later, police acted upon Mr Camilleri’s case and filed the charges against Cyrus Engerer.
Dr Muscat likened this case to the sudden prosecution of former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Harry Vassallo on minor VAT filing offences on the eve of the last election. “A coincidence for sure,” he said, sarcastically.
“What still remains to be cleared in this case is the casual manner in which the Prime Minister is tackling the fact that his chief of staff phoned the Police Commissioner to ask him to do something that, according to the latter, he could not do. It would seem this was not a unique instance. This has exposed the Prime Minister’s mantra that his government does not interfere in police work as mere lip service.
“We condemn the fact that the Prime Minister has so far shunned our request for public inquiries to shed light on the actions of his chief of staff and the recent coincidences.”
Dr Muscat declined to answer whether Mr Engerer will remain a prospective candidate for the Labour Party in the next election.
Mr Engerer, however, seems to be feeling secure in his new party, writing on Facebook: “It has been a tough week, but I felt an overwhelming wave of support, for which I sincerely thank you. I realised through the difficulties and words of encouragement that there still is a lot to accomplish. Success is ours when we work together in determination.”
He also spoke positively about the Labour Party’s summer barbecue, where he said he met “many friends, all working to bring the much needed change to the country”.
In a statement yesterday, the PN accused Dr Muscat of “playing dangerous games with democracy” after painting himself into a tight corner in Mr Engerer’s case.
The PN admonished Dr Muscat for attacking retired judge Albert Manché who has an “unblemished reputation for honesty and integrity” and for suggesting Labour should have a representative on the inquiry board of a case that involves one of his candidates.
[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]