Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that there was a “government within a government” under his leadership.
“I had cabinet meetings every week. I cannot discuss the content, but I can talk about my attitude. In almost all discussions, I chose to be the last one to talk as otherwise this would kill the discussion,” he told a board of inquiry investigating the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“Nobody ever told me that there was a kitchen cabinet or a restricted group. On the contrary, after every cabinet meeting I would speak to every minister about his pending ministerial issues. There was absolutely no type of government within a government. Obviously, I had my team. I am not a person who throws people out. My chief of staff was an integral part of my team and he was the ‘nudger-in-chief’ who would remind ministers about pending issues.”
Muscat was testifying before the board which he had set up last year to establish, among other things, whether the state could have offered better protection to Caruana Galizia, killed in a car bomb on 16 October, 2017.
The “kitchen cabinet” remark was made by former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna in a previous testimony before the board.
Muscat was summoned by the board of inquiry, led by former Judge Michael Mallia and including former chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro.
The inquiry is tasked to, among other thing, see if the State provided enough protection to the journalist, who was killed in a car bomb in 2017.
Muscat appointed the inquiry two years later, weeks before he was forced to resign in the wake of developments related to the murder.
His chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was arrested as part of the police investigations into the murder in November 2019.
Follow Muscat’s testimony minute by minute below
14:17 We are sent out of the courtroom and Muscat’s testimony will now continue behind closed doors.
14:16 Muscat wants to make some points related to allegations being made in a blog by an American writer. “My family and I have no plans to escape to Dubai. There is no need for speculation every time I catch a plane,” he says.
14:12 Many of Azzopardi’s questions are disallowed because of their political nature. He finishes his public questioning.
14:12 Muscat: “There were other businessmen and no cabinet members.”
14:12 Azzopardi asks about Muscat’s birthday party in 2019 for which Yorgen Fenech was a guest. “Were other businessmen there and members of cabinet?”
14:11 Muscat: “I had told Keith Schembri ‘ara ma jitlaqx’. What is certain is that in my mind, imagine what would have happened if this person really escaped. I would have been made out to have been the man who set him free.”
14:10 Azzopardi asks about Keith Schembri’s phone call to Yorgen Fenech in which he told him not to leave Malta (this happened on the eve of Fenech’s arrest in November 2019).
14:08 Muscat says there was no indication of wrongdoing at the time. “I am shocked about what came out about Montenegro,” he says.
14:08 Azzopardi asks about the Montenegro wind farm deal that Enemalta entered into. Azzopardi says that Muscat was present for the meeting of the Enemalta purchase of Montenegro wind farms, linking the purchase to 17 Black.
14:07 Questions relating to Konrad Mizzi’s consultancy with the MTA after stepping down are also shot down by the board.
14:06 Azzopardi insists his questions are related to good governance. “If you do not fight corruption, you create an environment where everything goes,” he says.
14:05 Muscat: “If you look at the big four or big six you’ll find they get approximately the same amount of direct orders.”
14:05 Azzopardi mentions direct orders given to Nexia BT but is told he is stretching it.
14:04 “We are very far from the inquiry here,” points out Said Pullicino as a question is made about the foreign bank accounts of Muscat’s chief of staff, which were supposed to take a million euros a day. Lia also protests.
14:04 Only Charles Mercieca laughs.
14:03 Muscat’s lawyer Pawlu Lia quips: “Fuq il-qabar ta’ Kristu.”
14:03 Azzopardi: “Do you know how Keith Schembri’s mobile was lost?”
14:02 Muscat: “No, no, no, no. Neither he nor I knew about the arrest.”
14:02 Muscat: “To hand his resignation.”
14:01 Azzopardi: “Why did Keith Schembri come to your house the night before his arrest?”
14:01 Muscat says there were never financial problems, just an issue with timing on the State guarantee for the loan.
14:00 Questioning turns to Electrogas. Azzopardi asks when Muscat found out that Electrogas was bankrupt.
14:00 Muscat: “I was and I was concerned about him and his family.”
14:00 Azzopardi: “In 2019 you had been informed that Yorgen Fenech was arrested in Houston Texas on drug charges.”
13:59 Muscat: “I deny that without prejudicing the case. I spoke to the police about that. There is circumstantial evidence rebutting that assertion.”
13:59 Azzopardi: “Fenech had told you to be careful because Melvin Theuma was speaking out.”
13:58 Muscat: “No.”
13:58 Azzopardi: “One month before Fenech was revealed as owner of 17 Black, do you recall he came to your Burmarrad home?”
13:56 Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer Charles Mercieca has entered the courtroom.
13:50 The former PM insists he cannot simply throw these two people away.
13:49 Muscat: “In truth, after the fact you start to doubt everyone. But I never saw anything but two people who worked hard.”
13:49 Azzopardi asks whether Muscat had ever doubted the integrity of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.
13:47 Muscat: “No members of any mafia were ever arrested in this country. There are many running around, amongst them members of Azzopardi’s party.”
13:46 Azzopardi says that on 6 December, Mark Camilleri, chairman of the Book Council said that we hadn’t voted for the mafia to take over the country. “This is a delegate of the Labour Party. What do you have to say to this?”
13:45 Muscat: “Then he knew before me. If I am the one who decides, how can he know?”
13:45 Azzopardi says that Yorgen Fenech had told the police that towards the end of 2016 he was already aware of the early election to be held in 2017. “What is your reaction?”
13:43 He continues: “I saw the arrests as such a major victory for the State – it was a first that the alleged executors of a car bomb were arrested – that I wasn’t thinking about who might have been leaking information to third parties. I was shocked because I never suspected some people or saw anything wrong done by them.”
13:42 Muscat: “No. If there was a leak, I definitely wasn’t aware of it.”
13:41 Azzopardi: “Were you aware that Keith Schembri was passing on information to third parties about the arrests?”
13:41 There are groans in the courtroom. The former PM says the reaction was one of many.
13:40 Azzopardi asks him about his “kemm fottewni tajjeb” comment earlier in his testimony. “Wasn’t there a concern for a mother who was murdered?”
13:40 A question about why Muscat had removed John Rizzo from police commissioner is disallowed by the board.
13:39 Muscat: “I found out from the press. I don’t use Facebook. I don’t know if you can be involved in a group without your consent, but I didn’t know.” Muscat condemned these groups.
13:39 It is now lawyer Jason Azzopardi’s turn to ask. He asks whether Muscat was aware that he was a member of online hate groups.
13:38 Comodini Cachia concludes her questioning.
13:38 On the Yorgen Fenech pardon, Muscat says that as it was possible that he would implicate his chief of staff, he organised the famous night cabinet meeting. “I made the introductions and left,” he says.
13:36 Muscat: “I always acted correctly. I told the AG and police commissioner to advise me and I would follow it to the letter. The decision wasn’t my opinion, it was based on the information by the AG and police commissioner. As a point of departure, I didn’t want to give any pardons. The president should only give it if there was certainty that it would lead to the mastermind of the murder. The moment I was given the advice, I went public with it and then took it to cabinet. It then went before the president.”
13:35 She reminds him that Yorgen Fenech was a friend of his.
13:35 She asks about the pardon requests by Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech. “Were they both decided by cabinet?”
13:34 “I don’t even want to entertain that question,” Muscat says angrily.
13:34 She invites the former PM to deny any involvement.
13:33 Muscat: “I already gave all the details to the inquiring magistrate. It was made by someone who spoke to someone who spoke to me. The threat was that I would be stained with involvement in the assassination.”
13:33 Comodini Cachia is reading from statements and a Times of Malta interview where he had spoken of threats made to him at the time of the Melvin Theuma pardon in November 2019.
13:30 Muscat says that he only heard from the media that Keith Schembri had arranged a government job for Melvin Theuma.
13:30 Muscat: “No.”
13:29 QUICK REMINDER: The question is referring to a photo Theuma had taken with Schembri inside the latter’s office in Castille before the 2017 general election. Theuma had gone to the meeting in Castille where he was offered a government job. Theuma was eventually employed with a subsidiary company of the Housing Authority for a job that he never turned up for.
13:27 Comodini Cachia asks Muscat about when he met Melvin Theuma for the photograph at Castille during the Christmas greetings for the public. “Did the witness know that Keith Schembri had met with Melvin Theuma in the Castille office?”
13:24 Muscat: “I never spoke to Yorgen Fenech on Electrogas. When I asked Keith Schembri, he told me 17 Black was a business matter between the two of them and had nothing to do with Electrogas.”
13:22 Comodini Cachia says that Keith Schembri had indicated that he knew the owner of 17 Black, which was a millstone around the government’s neck. “Had the witness not asked his chief of staff about this?”
13:21 Comodini Cachia asks a question about the emails on the josephmuscat.com server but is stopped by the board that asks what relevance did this have to the inquiry. Comodini Cachia says this is a question of impunity and transparency but says she will let the question slide.
13:19 Peter Caruana Galizia says his wife’s request was overridden and the fixed point remained.
13:19 On the issue of police protection, Lia interjects, pointing out that Daphne had written on her blog that she had spoken to former police commissioner John Rizzo and asked him to remove the fixed point outside her house.
13:18 Muscat says that if he invited investors to invest there were tenders. “Had there been something wrong the NAO would have found it out,” he adds.
13:17 Muscat: “The OPM is mentioned not me. Never was it written that I sat down to negotiate.”
13:16 One of the terms of reference of the inquiry board is about whether there was a lack of good governance, Comodini Cachia says. “Therefore, when the NAO reports that the OPM drafted RFPs, or in the ITS project where the PM himself sent for Mr Debono to speak to him… it becomes important for us to have the demarcation between ministerial discretion and that of the PM,” she says.
13:12 The board points out that Edward Scicluna had said otherwise but Muscat refuses to be drawn into criticising his former finance minister.
13:12 Muscat: “The easiest thing to do to avoid criticism is to do nothing. The government led by myself would do things, sometimes we would go too fast.”
13:11 Answering a question on the sale of Enemalta’s shareholding, Muscat says the sale of 30% of Enemalta is a corporate decision but the cabinet must be informed accordingly. “Konrad Mizzi is essentially a project manager,” Muscat says, adding the former minister had a strong private sector background.
13:09 Muscat: “Konrad Mizzi like any other minister had his powers, which meant he could decide things without speaking to the prime minister. Other things need to be discussed with the prime minister and strategic issues would be in the form of a cabinet memo.”
13:08 Comodini Cachia points out that Konrad Mizzi did all he did with the approval of Joseph Muscat and cabinet. Does he confirm or deny this?
13:08 Muscat: “Mostly, if he sends me a question I would answer. For some time, he was absent, I won’t go into that. We weren’t close friends. We met for meals maybe eight or 10 times over the years. The invitations were social. Rarely would we ever talk about business.”
13:06 Questioning moves on. He is asked about his friendship with Yorgen Fenech.
13:04 He said his statement was made back then in the context of the Egrant allegations.
13:04 Muscat: “Yes. Sometimes she would invent stories entirely, in particular the Egrant allegation.”
13:03 Comodini Cachia slams Lia for interrupting her, saying that perhaps he would like to take the stand to testify about the lack of protection or otherwise by the police in the light of previous testimony by the police. She quotes the EU Observer about a grilling of Muscat on corruption claims. You are quoted as having said the following (she quotes from the article): ‘He then gave a fiery speech accusing some MEPs of relying on fake news, on blogs…” She asks whether this fake news included Daphne’s blog.
12:56 Muscat says Caruana Galizia was the opposition, pushing forward the PN’s political narrative.
12:55 Comodini Cachia asks about a billboard featuring Daphne’s face. “How did this fit in with the protection of journalists?”
12:54 She asks how media houses had been selected to be briefed on the murder, quoting a PR from the Institute of Maltese Journalists. “I have no idea,” he says confidently. “In truth, if it is a press conference, you have to be registered as a media house with the DOI. It was not my role to invite the media,” he says.
12:53 The question is disallowed by the board as it is political.
12:53 Comodini Cachia goes on. Media houses had reported that Muscat was refusing one to one interviews, quoting form several articles and blog posts. “In the light of this, how does the former PM justify this action?”
12:52 Muscat: “Obviously not and I think that everyone knew that the election was at a maximum, one year away.”
12:51 Comodini Cachia reads from the email exchange. She asks whether Muscat had ever discussed the election date with Kalin from Henley & Partners.
12:50 Lia: “No, the family have a right to observe. The PN was pushing the agenda of the inquiry.”
12:50 The judge insists the family have a right to intervene.
12:49 Judge emeritus Michael Mallia raises his voice at Lia, saying that everything would be a political narrative to him from now on. Lia is unperturbed: “The board hadn’t asked these questions because it wasn’t relevant.”
12:49 Lia interjects: “A political narrative, again.”
12:48 The board accepts the reply. Comodini Cachia continues to ask about a suggestion made by Kalin that the legal case was needed because an early election would be called.
12:47 Muscat: “I have nothing to add.”
12:46 Comodini Cachia asks what the country needed protection from with regards to journalists.
12:46 Muscat: “Because they were protecting the interests of the country… Without the IIP, with COVID, many people would be suffering today.”
12:45 Lawyers Lia and Gouder interrupt Comodini Cachia again as she reads from a blog post on SLAPP. “My job here is to ask why the PM didn’t have an objection for a private company to open defamation proceedings in London,” she says.
12:44 The board asks Muscat if he remembers this. “I don’t, but I wasn’t objecting that a private company takes legal steps,” he replies.
12:43 Comodini Cachia asks about emails from Christian Kalin to Keith Schembri, Owen Bonnici and others asking government’s permission to open libel cases against Daphne Caruana Galizia and Maltese media houses if they would not stop reporting statements about the IIP. Muscat had replied ‘I don’t object’. Keith Schembri also replied in a similar manner.
12:41 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia will ask questions. As she begins, asking about his Facebook statement this morning, lawyer Pawlu Lia interrupts saying that he will not allow political questions.
12:40 Muscat: “It was in the national interest. If my closest collaborator was asked about any case of, say corruption, the argument wouldn’t stand, but since it was a murder my position was untenable. I was also advised to call an early election, which I am confident I would have won.”
12:39 Said Pullicino: “What is the real reason for which you resigned?”
12:38 Muscat: “It is the same one. I didn’t publish it myself at first as I didn’t want to appear that I was going against the head of State.”
12:38 Said Pullicino asks about the resignation letter. “Was it the same one that hadn’t been published by the president?”
12:37 Muscat says that even if Schembri had resigned before being arrested, he [Muscat] would still have stepped down.
12:36 Muscat: “Yes.”
12:36 Said Pullicino: “Even after 17 Black?”
12:36 Muscat: “The only step I could take was to keep him or fire him. I opted to keep him.”
12:35 Said Pullicino asks Muscat if he had taken steps against Keith Schembri.
12:35 The board emerges from chambers. Here we go again.
12:15 He will be asked questions after a short break.
12:15 The judges say the family’s lawyers want to ask him some questions. Muscat stops them saying that he doesn’t want to be used in political games.
12:15 He says that the first time that Keith Schembri was mentioned to him was after the interrogation of Yorgen Fenech. “To me, Keith Schembri’s name was never asked about during the case,” he adds.
12:13 Muscat says he saw what the police said happened and he thinks that the approach to the Americans happened at the same time.
12:12 Muscat: “I was in Sliema for an event. It’s in my statement to the press. On the way, I get a call from Kurt Farrugia. The phone call from the AFM said that there was an explosion at Burmarrad. My first thought was my father as he had a fireworks factory there. Information started trickling in and Keith Schembri told me if we don’t involve foreigners in this we will never know what happened and they would never be caught. I said ‘kemm fottewni tajjeb’. We must ask the Americans without insulting the Europeans. I think I told the Police Commissioner to involve Europol immediately. We spoke to the Dutch and the English too. Keith said he would speak to the Americans. He spoke to Mark Schapiro and was told that the FBI would come down from Rome the next day.”
12:09 Muscat says he wants to set the record straight as to who told the Amercian FBI to come over to Malta and help with the Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
12:09 He is giving the layout of his office. He would meet Keith Schembri maybe twice a day.
12:08 Muscat says he doesn’t want to answer about MSS in a public hearing, but offers to explain behind closed doors.
12:08 The board asks whether he was aware of leaks from the OPM and the Security Services about the murder investigation.
12:07 He jokes that he has many more żrar (gravel) in his shoe but telling about them would deflect from his book which he is writing.
12:07 Muscat: “I am a great believer in the American system, especially the two-term limit. When I became leader of the Opposition, I said that if I become prime minister I would only stay two terms. I had the intention of leaving after the European Parliament election but the moment of the arrest [Yorgen Fenech] and the seriousness of the moment, required me to leave. I understand that when you’re a prime minister, people say nice things to your face and then stab you in the back. But I used to see Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi as important in the mechanisms of government because they were doers. I had the good fortune of being surrounded by a group of people and a cabinet who put their lives on hold; such was their sense of service. It is a political judgement I made and perhaps that I am a victim of. I am not going to come here and blame other people.”
12:03 Muscat says that he could have avoided all the trouble at the time of the Panama Papers but his political judgement was to keep Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. He again says he was wrong and insists he will not judge others. However, he adds that he had to leave after his chief of staff was arrested in November last year.
12:00 Muscat: “One of the greatest criticisms levelled against me was because I was working with known Nationalists… whoever invests 1c in this country instead of leaving it in the bank, has my respect. Whoever came to me with a good project, I gave it my backing… if this is a mistake I admit to it.”
11:52 Said Pullicino says the board is worried about political ties to major projects.
11:51 Muscat: “I don’t care who is eating with whom. In our tiny society, often ties are overstated. I have five cousins but when in government this went up to around 26.”
11:46 Muscat: “Let us say for the sake of the argument, that this could have led to a perception of impunity… the murder mastermind and perpetrators are in prison awaiting judgment. If there was a perception of impunity, the fact of impunity does not exist.”
11:44 Muscat says that the only step he could have taken and didn’t was firing Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.
11:43 Muscat: “The context was, I asked Keith Schembri for his position and he told me it was tied to his business… the overriding point was that I was accused of taking money too. Only today we are saying that they are separate allegations. This is part of a triumvirate that was taking money and my wife was involved. The banks drove her friends in New York crazy after they were mentioned. My judgement was that if the things being said about me were not true, they were probably not true about the other two people in question. That is my judgement and again, a bad judgement.”
11:39 Said Pullicino asks about 17 Black. “There was almost certain evidence of the use of this structure for illicit purposes and nothing was done. It involved not only Yorgen Fenech but also Keith Schembri,” he says.
11:38 Muscat: “This is a political exercise though. My predecessor was presented with the fact that a member of his cabinet had an undeclared account in Switzerland. He didn’t fire him, he was disappointed. Antica roma… I bore political responsibility. The moment an investigation touched my office – not me, my office – I didn’t wait. I said it’s time for me to stop.”
11:36 Said Pullicino: “Action could also be taken in Cabinet.”
11:35 Muscat mentions the Swiss Leaks that had been published before the Panama Papers. He says the Swiss Leaks didn’t make such a large impact in Malta. “Even the fact that I told the Tax Commissioner to do his duty, I was warned that I could be trespassing the limits of my powers. The truth is that this was a tsunami, I made a political decision and people judged me and you will judge me. The structures could have moved quicker, yes,” he says.
11:34 Muscat: “I can say it wasn’t so clear cut. Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi weren’t the only Maltese people mentioned in Panama Papers… if we agree that it wasn’t necessarily illegal, it becomes a question of political judgement. It could be that I made a bad political judgement, OK?”
11:32 Said Pullicino: “Why weren’t other measures taken in the wake of the Panama Papers?”
11:30 Said Pullicino says the State should be proactive in protecting the country and not wait for inquiries to be concluded.
11:29 Muscat: “I think I could have acted with more strength, had I had all the information and not a trickle of it. The information wasn’t dumped.”
11:29 Chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino asks about the Panama Papers.
11:27 Muscat: “Although people would tease and mock journalists after elections – it’s part of the game – I had ordered police protection for Daphne Caruana Galizia because I didn’t want some idiot from doing something to her.”
11:26 He predicts the imminent financial collapse of the print media scetor. “If I can make a suggestion, there should be financial assistance at arms’ length from the government,” he says.
11:24 Muscat: “In the case of Caruana Galizia, if there was a threat against her safety, I would be the first to agree with the police commissioner or even suggest it myself that she be given some form of escort… She was more powerful than the Times, Independent, MaltaToday and all the others combined. She was the opposition. The Opposition is finished. This is why it’s mind boggling for me that after the 2017 election she almost exclusively wrote about the PN. Whoever did this (the murder) is, besides being an assassin, also stupid, as well as a criminal.”
11:21 Mallia says the board’s concern was mostly about investigative journalists who are alone without a media house backing them. “What protection did the State give these people, when they are singled out for special treatment?”
11:20 He talks about the hurt he feels when people attack his children. “Mela jekk jgħiduli korrott, ma jimpurtax għax jien naf x’jien, imma t-tfal tiegħi x’għandom x’jaqsmu… no archangel of the rule of law defended them, on the contrary they were considered fair game. I’m all for freedom of speech. I’m all for it and I never complained but I will stick my neck out for those who are not in the public domain,” Muscat says.
11:16 It is pointed out to him that garnishee orders are still possible, but he deflects saying he is no longer in power.
11:15 “The removal of criminal libel was another milestone,” he says.
11:15 He says he wanted to, but hadn’t managed to implement the concept of open government with documents available in real time to the public.
11:15 Muscat says journalism has changed, even in the past four or five years. He shares an anecdote about his children, having bought them a TV. “They don’t watch TV since they get the content they want from a smartphone,” he says.
11:14 Muscat says that abroad journalists needed to be part of a recognised organisation to be considered as such. “There is a difference between a person with an academic background in journalism and a person with a smartphone writing a blog who is also a journalist. It is a global phenomenon and a generational shift,” he says.
11:12 Muscat: “Politicians and the media need each other to exist. Journalists without politicians won’t have anything to write about and the politicians without the media are talking to themselves… In Malta, the media has taken the role of the opposition… I believe that today the politician is entering a world of absolute scrutiny, absolute without any type of barrier. This is a state of fact, not intended to be negative.”
11:10 Mallia: “What can be done to improve it?”
11:10 Asked about his relationship with journalists, Muscat describes it as a “love, hate relationship”.
11:09 Muscat says that on the FIAU, the minister had said that some reports were written to be leaked. “The author of some of the leaks is in court being charged with perjury about me in a different case,” he adds.
11:08 Muscat: “First of all, I never oversaw the AG’s line of thought. I honestly don’t know the context, and definitely didn’t give instructions. I certainly didn’t have a role in the decisions of the AG. I’m sorry to say but the Panama Papers did have an effect in Malta. For starters, I had to take steps against a minister of mine. History will judge… the domino effect of the Panama Papers and Egrant led to an election almost a year early. So, I can’t say there was no effect in Malta.”
11:05 Mallia asks whether Muscat was aware of the conclusions of the FIAU on 17 Black, Electrogas and the Panama Papers. “Why had an investigation into Nexia BT been declared invasive by the AG? This lack of action by the authorities who should have acted could have led to this situation,” Mallia says.
11:03 On the number of police commissioners that were changed during his term in office, Muscat says that between 1987 and 1992 there were four police commissioners. “Sometimes our journalistic investigations go as far back as the search engine allows,” he says.
11:02 Muscat says that these were the only times he dealt with the FIAU.
11:01 Muscat says the second time he got involved with the FIAU was when there was a case that could have prejudiced bilateral relations with another country. “At one point the FIAU requested utility bills of the ultimate beneficial owner of Smart City – a PN investment. This UBO was essentially the ruler of Dubai. I said ‘ma tarax’ we’re going to ask the ruler of Dubai for his electricity bill,” he says.
11:00 Muscat: “The first [contact with FIAU] was when a story in Italy broke about a gaming company involving the son of the former PM [Lawrence Gonzi] which led to a furore in the Italian media. I wanted to know the FIAU strategy. I could have scored cheap political points but we chose to defend the country.”
10:58 Muscat says that there was a time when the police and Europol were not in agreement and were going in different directions. “The police asked me for advice what I thought as a government should happen. I told them to follow Europol in everything and involve the inquiring magistrate… As PM I only had direct contact with FIAU on two occasions,” he says.
10:56 Muscat: “I never told the police what to do. I don’t think it was my remit and it would have been a sign of problems. They told me what they felt I should know.”
10:56 Judge Mallia asks about the FIAU report and the meeting with the police.
10:55 Muscat says he doesn’t recall any mention of women in the chats and wants the record put straight on this.
10:55 Muscat says that the police asked him about the WhatsApp chat group. He emphasises that he is not being investigated. “Food, wine and whisky photos featured in the chat,” he says.
10:53 Muscat: “I met Yorgen Fenech in the first part of 2008. It was Lino Spiteri who had approached me and asked me if I was interested in meeting the Fenech family. I knew Yorgen Fenech. I would send him messages, as I did to hundreds of other people. I met him on singular occasions. I knew he was a friend of my chief of staff. The first time I met him there was Keith Schembri present and he was talking with him and said they were childhood friends.”
10:51 Judge emeritus Mallia points to the WhatsApp chat group with Fenech.
10:50 He says it could have been a botched frame up, adding that he had no meeting with anyone of the people involved in the murder.
10:50 Muscat: “The only person I met with once was Melvin Theuma and it was a very interesting case… it was Christmas 2018 and I would accept public greetings and a couple of days before, the Security Services told me that they had traced a phone call of his where he was going to book a photo with me on that date. I told them to show me who he is as I had no idea what he looks like. There were some 300 or 400 people. What shocked me was that right after Theuma there was a young lady who told me what are we going to do about Vince Muscat. I asked who, and she said ‘il-Koħħu’, she was his daughter. I told security and the photo op ended.”
10:46 Muscat talks about inviting Yorgen Fenech to parties. “We were with a group of people who would invite people over to each other’s houses, among them was Yorgen Fenech. I asked Security Services for advice and they said carry on as normal,” Muscat reiterates.
10:43 Muscat: “I wasn’t just close to those businessmen, I was close to all of them. Thanks to this I saved thousands of jobs and I’m not ashamed of it. On 17 Black I told my chief of staff to tell all he knows to the authorities. I have no need to defend anyone. It didn’t look good. The irony is that the moment the name of the owner of 17 Black came out the pressure decreased not increased.”
10:42 Muscat reads an excerpt from the Fenech Adami autobiography where John Dalli was picked up from Libya on a Tumas private jet to bring down the Sant government in a vote. “That’s intimacy. There is nothing wrong with it,” he says.
10:41 Muscat: “I will make a shocking statement: every government in the world, including Malta has to be close to business. An economy is run by not more than 10 people. If policymakers are not in constant contact with these people, decisions will not be made and there will be a disconnect between government and reality. I didn’t discover this because I’m a genius, I’m a normal person. I recently read the autobiography of Eddie Fenech Adami…”
10:39 Judge emeritus Mallia points out that it appeared that big business influence had affected government decision making. This also contributed to the culture of impunity. Muscat asks for context.
10:39 Muscat says Keith Schembri had a driving force. “Did this give him ‘arja’, that is for you to judge. I can say that the things were done thanks to his impetus. I never gave free reign to anyone. I would try to hold myself back as much as possible. Hand on heart, I never gave free reign to anyone. Now, if someone did something wrong, let him pay for it,” Muscat says.
10:36 Muscat: “I had cabinet meetings every week. I cannot discuss the content, but I can talk about my attitude. In almost all discussions, I chose to be the last one to talk as otherwise this would kill the discussion. Nobody ever told me that there was a kitchen cabinet or a restricted group. On the contrary, after every cabinet meeting I would speak to every minister about his pending ministerial issues. There was absolutely no type of government within a government. Obviously, I had my team. I am not a person who throws people out. My chief of staff was an integral part of my team and he was the ‘nudger-in-chief’ who would remind ministers about pending issues.”
10:34 He takes issue with Prof. Edward Scicluna’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ remark.
10:33 Answering a question from the board about a culture of impunity, Muscat says that his mistake was probably of being too accessible. “I was open to everyone…,” he says.
10:32 Muscat says that today, “hand on heart”, he believes it was a mistake of his to ask former ministers Manuel Mallia and Michael Falzon to resign from ministers. The former resigned after his driver shot at a person who had just scraped the ministerial car and drove off. The latter resigned after the National Audit Office concluded its investigation into the Old Mint Street sale of a property to Marco Gaffarena.
10:27 Muscat notes that the request for the inquiry predated the arrests. Judge Abigail Lofaro nods. “If you want to go down that route it is up to you,” Muscat adds.
10:25 Muscat: “To me there is a logical flaw in this argument. Let’s say the Panama Papers led to a situation whereby Daphne Caruana Galizia had to be murdered because of the Electrogas contract, Panama Papers etc. We are here assuming therefore that the person arrested is already guilty of this crime. The line of thought is Panama-Electrogas-Daphne murder. The police have said that there are new leads and that there are no motives yet. Let us say that this inquiry concludes something. It could prejudice the police investigation. Let’s say there was more than one mastermind, with different motives. Your report would be discredited. It would also prejudice the family’s case for damages before the European Court of Human Rights.”
10:21 He says prime ministers don’t choose who to prosecute, pointing to a declaration this morning by US president-elect Joe Biden. “That’s what rule of law means,” he adds.
10:21 Muscat: “Of course I want to find out if my chief of staff was involved in corruption… The argument being built up is that more drastic political changes were not made and this somehow led to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
10:19 Muscat says the inquiry into allegations of kickbacks linked to the IIP scheme was concluded but nobody made a fuss about it.
10:15 He had pegged his political future on this and challenged whoever had a smidgen of evidence to come forward.
10:14 Muscat says that the first time he heard it said that Egrant belonged to his wife, he started laughing. “I asked her and she said she hadn’t opened any companies,” he says.
10:13 Muscat says he was advised to sue the person who came up with the statement ‘il-Kink tal-Korruzzjoni’, but hadn’t because he believed in freedom of expression. “Several stories started swirling around,” he says.
10:12 Muscat says that after the Panama Papers were outed, there were billboards with Mizzi, Schembri and a silhouette cut-out. “It was clear that I was the cut-out… I only had a foreign account as an MEP and had closed it after I left the position,” he says.
10:11 Muscat: “Stories develop piece by piece, and you don’t know where it is going to end up. The information was a trickle, now whether it was an intended trickle or unforeseen is another matter… For me, if someone owns a complex offshore tax structure, I don’t depart from the premise that he is a criminal. If I did that the economy would crumble as it is built on financial services. I don’t believe that everyone mentioned in Panama Papers and Swissleaks had bad intentions. There are even members of the judiciary who are mentioned in those leaks. When I asked Keith Schembri about the structures, he said that Bank of Valletta wouldn’t be offering the services he required abroad. He had a leak from HSBC and he was advised to set up an offshore structure. Konrad Mizzi had said he needed it for his family. I believed them.”
10:06 Muscat agrees that the writings on the Panama Papers were a major issue.
10:05 Mallia asks about the Panama Papers. “This is not gossip, this is serious journalism.”
10:05 Muscat: Could I have done more? Yes, but the benefit of hindsight is a superpower that doesn’t exist. What I did in no way instigated hatred or in particular some form of retribution on Daphne Caruana Galizia, despite being hit, not once a day but once an hour, on everything.”
10:04 Muscat says that his action to stop stories about people’s personal lives included video and audio recordings of MPs, mental health of members of their families, criminal cases of their family members.
10:03 Muscat: “The question is not relevant, but I will reply. Daphne Caruana Galizia would vary from world-class journalism to petty pieces about me and my children eating a burger. Gutter gossip. She wrote about me thousands of times. The first time I mentioned her by name was in parliament after her murder. She used to like to write about me from before I became leader of the Opposition. She called me Alfred Sant’s poodle. I have no problem with that. In public life, you have to take criticism. This is an important trait. Resilience. Like a boxer ‘taqla’ ġo fik’. Glenn Bedingfield is a political animal. I would tell him not to get involved in these issues, but he would say ‘don’t I have a right to reply. Are you keeping us quiet?’ In truth, finger pointing does no good. Everyone contributed to an increase in temperature in the country. I didn’t contribute. I stopped stories about people’s personal lives.”
09:59 Judge emeritus Michael Mallia asks Muscat about the Glenn Bedingfield and his blog. “Did you know about these blogs which were being made by people in the OPM?”
09:59 Muscat says he wanted to make his stand known upfront as it wasn’t his style to do things behind people’s backs.
09:58 The board replies. “It is not our duty to enter into an argument with you… You felt the need to make this declaration.”
09:58 He says the way the inquiry was carried out undermines its credibility. He also slams the Attorney General and State Advocate for their “ultra-passive role” in the sittings. “Who occupies these offices has the duty to give the inquiry more credibility. It shows lack of character…”
09:57 Muscat says that Caruana Galizia’s murder overshadowed all the good things he did. “From the start I said that I wanted to do two terms as prime minister,” Muscat adds.
09:56 Muscat criticises the inquiry for spending two weeks on the incident in Castille last November when journalists were held inside after an urgent press conference in the early hours of the day.
09:55 Muscat continues to chide the inquiry, saying it ignored issues related to the protection of journalists. “In 2000, Frans Ghirxi [then l-Orizzont editor] had a bomb placed outside his house, after that there were the arson attacks on Daphne Caruana Galizia and Saviour Balzan’s houses. It was one of the few times I spoke to her… was there impunity in these cases?”
09:52 On Egrant, Muscat adds it was the biggest emphasis the Opposition had made at the time and then it was forgotten.
09:51 The former PM says that he left hundreds of libellous comments go because he believes in freedom of expression. “I only filed three libels. One when I was accused of saying that I would freeze the minimum wage, the second when I was said to be taking money from passports and the third occasion concerned the Egrant allegation, which was fed to Daphne Caruana Galizia,” he says.
09:48 Muscat: “The government took the greatest step against impunity by removing the time-bar on corruption cases by politicians and people in public office.”
09:47 “Impunity was the other 139 unsolved cases,” he adds.
09:46 Muscat says that in the past 40 years there were 140 cases of bombings. “How many were solved? One, this one,” he says with reference to the Caruana Galizia car bomb.
09:45 Muscat: “From what I saw in the press, little was asked on how her death could have been avoided. Let me be clear, I had no information about Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, much less that it could be prevented.”
09:44 “The investigation is shallow, in many regards,” Muscat says.
09:43 Muscat says that Daphne Caruana Galizia was scrutinising the Opposition in last six months of her life. “What happened to the investigation of this aspect?” he asks.
09:42 Muscat is reading out from a statement. He complains that there was no scrutiny on previous governments, adding the 2013 date was arbitrary.
09:41 Muscat admonishes the judges. “These terms of reference were made after long meetings with the Caruana Galizia family and their representatives because I wanted things to be done well… With all due respect, from what I saw in the media, your questions had little to do with the terms of reference… it appears to be an exercise in curiosity. At worst this inquiry has deteriorated into a political exercise. It is failing miserably, because the inquiry had to focus on the State and not on the present government.”
09:38 He reads them out, in English.
09:37 Muscat wants to make some points: “As the person who appointed this inquiry I think it is pertinent to remind you of the parameters of the inquiry.”
09:36 Asked if he is on police bail, Muscat says he is not and adds that he is not being investigated by the police.
09:36 Before he begins, he says he has a declaration to make.
09:35 Muscat takes the stand. He is being administered the oath.
09:35 The lawyer also says that some media reports incorrectly said that Muscat didn’t reply to the summons.
09:34 Some journalists are still outside the courtroom. Lawyer Pawlu Lia asks what criteria were used to allow people in. First come, first served, he is told.
09:33 The judges have entered and taken their seats, sending the court messenger to call in the witness, former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
09:30 Muscat was greeted on his arrival outside the law courts by a small crowd of socially distanced protestors holding up placards with the words ‘mafia’ and ‘they bought you with a watch’. There were both cheers and jeers upon his arrival.
09:23 Former prime minister Joseph Muscat is expected to start testifying at around 9:30am.
09:23 We are in court for another session of the Caruana Galizia public inquiry.
09:18 Good morning.