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MALTATODAY 26 June 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 26 JUNE 2022 NEWS JOSEPH Muscat refuses to dis- appear as many of his critics augured when he was forced to resign in the wake of the ar- rest of Yorgen Fenech, whose proximity to chief of staff Keith Schembri raised questions on whether the former prime minister was involved in the greatest cover-up ever in re- cent Maltese history. The fact that this question remains un- resolved obviously casts a dark shadow on any role assumed by Muscat. Muscat himself may have realised that with a political comeback extremely unlike- ly, even inside Labour there is a political consensus that the former Labour leader was guilty of a gross error of judgement in keeping Schem- bri by his side, despite know- ing his connection to Fenech through the 17 Black offshore company. That in itself showed a tol- erance for questionable be- haviour. So can he be trusted in a sector like football which is just as blighted by big busi- ness interests and corruption as politics? Apparently with a few exceptions – Valletta and Gudja FC – the bosses of the majority of the football clubs involved have no such qualms. This is not so surprising con- sidering that Maltese clubs are also led by the likes of construction magnate Joseph Portelli, who also use football to curry favour amongst the masses while literally pillag- ing the country's landscapes, also thanks to complicity with the Labour administra- tion. After all, this is the same world in which Portelli had the audacity to present him- self as a registered footballer to score Nadur FC's winning penalty in a competitive foot- ball match. But can people dismiss Jo- seph Muscat and really expect him to vanish or rot away in some inglorious exile in the same way Bettino Craxi end- ed his days in Hammamet? So far Muscat does not stand ac- cused of an- ything illegal in any court of law. He has a l r e a d y been ab- s o l v e d by the E g r a n t inquiry over his wife's alleged ownership of a secret Panama company and other links to the Azeri ruling family. And despite gross political mis- judgements and dubious com- plicities, he may have never crossed the line of criminal responsibility. Even if he did... prosecution remains unlikely in a country with such a poor record in hounding past and present politicians of all po- litical hues. And after his opponents raised the stakes so high by entertaining the possibili- ty of his active involvement in murder, anything short of that now sounds like an abso- lution. The rise of the Muscat 'power couple' brand Still relatively young and ambitious, Muscat remains adulated in his own party, which never dumped him the same way the Ger- man Social Demo- crats recently did with former PM Ger- h a r d Rebranding Muscat: redemption through football magic? Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat could head Malta's top-tier league football clubs industry association. Could he reinvigorate local football the same way he transformed Malta, or will the dark cloud of disgrace still overshadow the role he seeks in football and beyond? JAMES DEBONO Like Malta's own Beckhams, the Muscats retain a cherished celebrity status and the perks which come with it, with Michelle presiding over a BOV-backed charity foundation and Joseph possibly starting to work his way up in the lucrative world of international football.

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