Thursday, 28 November 2019, 20:06 Last update: about 49 minutes ago
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Cabinet unanimously decided not to recommend that Yorgen Fenech receive a pardon, in a meeting which he was not involved in.
After a 6 and a half hour Cabinet session, that saw protesters try to enter Castille, the Prime Minister called a press conference at around 2.40am on Friday.
As the night wore on, tensions ran high. Protesters that were in Castille squere began arguing with the police at around 1.20am, as the police began pushing back barricades they had placed earlier even further. This resulted in protesters chanting ‘mafia’ and yelling other slogans. When the press were finally called for a press conference at 2.40am, protesters tried to rush into Castille, but were unsuccessful.
In the press conference, Muscat said that the Presidential pardon for Yorgen Fenech was discussed. He said that when Fenech gave his first version of events, he sought the written advice of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, who both recommended that the pardon recommendation not be made.
Muscat said that Fenech then made a second request. He again asked the Attorney General and Police Chief for their advice. This time, he said, Fenech had made allegations about his former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, and the allegations, he said, were investigated by the police.
Muscat said that Cabinet was informed that all other allegations he made were also being investigated actively.
“Due to the person implicated, I did not want to take the decision. I asked Cabinet to take a decision after hearing from the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General.”
Muscat was referring to the fact that his former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, had been named during the course of the investigation. Schembri was released by the police on Thursday evening and the police see no need to keep him under arrest,
He said that he left the room for this part of the meeting, where the pardon was being considered, and left deliberations up to his Cabinet colleagues.
“The Police Commissioner and the Attorney General’s detailed recommendation is that there is not sufficient reason to grant a Presidential pardon to Fenech. Cabinet unanimously agreed.”
He noted that Cabinet is conscious of the third request made directly to the President, and said that they will leave that decision up to the President.
The Prime Minister then fielded questions from the press, but did not answer a number due to the ongoing investigations.
The Prime Minister said that Keith Schembri will not be reinstated to his role. Schembri resigned last Tuesday.
It was pointed out to the PM that he has known about the investigation for months and that it led to the arrest of a person very close to him, and a person his government dealt with, and how people can have faith in him and how his EU partners can have confidence in him.
Muscat said that this is a national security issue, and as in such cases “I believe that I have to be briefed on national security issues.
“For us this was a major event that shook our democracy. The fact that despite me being briefed as are any other PMs, and just the same this led to high profile arrests, shows our institutions do work and deliver.”
“I must point out that in all cases under my watch where pardons were considered, we have exclusively relied on advice from Police Commissioner and the Attorney General. So this is not discretionary power that a politician can decide who to grant immunity or not, but it is a situation where there is a request addressed to the President, who relays to cabinet. Cabinet asks for advice of the Commissioner and the AG, and we simply endorse the recommendation of the AG and Commissioner.”
“I made a firm commitment that I want this case to close under my watch. I think the authorities delivered what many thought could not be delivered, that is a major breakthroughs. My job is to see this investigation concluded.”
Asked whether he excludes that Keith Schembri had in some way negotiated with Theuma and tried to condition the testimony of Yorgen Fenech through a mutual doctor, he said he would not comment about it but said that he is not aware of any such negotiations or dealings.
He said that it is the investigators and the Attorney General who said that the middleman’s pardon was crucial for a breakthrough in the case.
Asked by this newsroom that the fact remained that some of the allegations made concern some members of his Cabinet, he said that he is not aware that there are allegations against any members. Konrad Mizzi was then mentioned to which Muscat said he is not a member of Cabinet. Muscat conceded that Mizzi is a member of government and said that there is a difference between the executive and legislative branch. Asked where Education Minister Evarist Bartolo was, to which Muscat said that “he was here a few minutes ago.”
Asked about Schembri’s presence in Malta Security Services briefings, Muscat said that “the fact that we have come so far shows that the investigation is not compromised. I will not comment further on the issues relating to media speculation. What I can say is that I was never asked to keep Schembri out of any briefing. That is something I can deny.”
In reaction, Adrian Delia said that since Muscat did not resign, the institutions will continue to be led by Muscat “who spent the last three years defending Schembri despite being uncovered of being involved in money laundering.”
Muscat, he said, “against all common sense and decency, controls the investigations which led to Schembri being set free from the assassination of Caruana Galizia. Our country today is led by a person who has lost all legitimacy.”
Delia accused Muscat of interfering in the investigation. He also said that Cabinet tonight became complicit in ensuring that justice will not be done.
An urgent Cabinet meeting was called at 8pm Thursday to discuss Yorgen Fenech’s Presidential pardon, a meeting that lasted 6 hours and 30 minutes.
The Attorney General and Police Commissioner were also in the meeting.
As the night wore on, tensions ran high. Protesters that were in Castille squere began arguing with the police at around 1.20am, as the police began pushing back barricades they had placed earlier even further. This resulted in protesters chanting ‘mafia’ and yelling other slogans.
A press conference has now been called, and protesters also tried to rush into Castille. They were not successful.
As local anf foreign media were let into the building, so was one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sons, Paul.
Earlier tonight, the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri was released from arrest. At the same time, 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech wrote to the President, arguing that Cabinet should not be the ones to decide on whether to recommend he receive a pardon or not, as the information he wants to reveal is about Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona, among others.
A small group of people who had attended past protests turned up soon after the Cabinet meeting was originally publicised. Banners and placards reading “Zibel”, “xbajt”, “murderers” and “Daphne was right all along” were brought out. The police were present in force, and barriers were quickly erected around Castille. A garbage truck passed by at one point and people were shouting “gew ghalikom”.
As the four hour mark (midnight) since the start of the Cabinet meeting passed, some protesters were heard calling the Prime Minister an assassin, and protesters also chanted “barra”.
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne’s mobile phone number had been shared on messaging apps tonight, with a message urging him to take action. “Deputy Prime Minister, pay attention to your conscience, The people of goodwill are behind you,” the message read.
In a statement, Repubblika and Occupyjustice said that “we have witnessed an attack on Maltese democracy and justice. The Prime Minister has exercised his disproportionate powers to protect his best friend if not himself as well from paying for crimes.”
“Keith Schembri’s release is incomprehensible. Yorgen Fenech is being accused of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia. The motive of the murder is the fact she exposed the set up of 17 Black to bribe Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi must pay for what they have done. On the prime minister’s instructions, instead, they are being protected.”
“Joseph Muscat should have resigned to allow justice to run its course. Instead he held on to the control of Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and Attorney General Peter Grech and ensured justice would not reach him and his friends. This effectively means that we no longer have an effectively functioning democracy. We instead have a prime minister who rules over us by decree and his friends are allowed to steal, even kill, with impunity.”
“We will not take this cowardly outrage lying down and we will say so most clearly so the world can know that not all Maltese people are corrupt, robbers and murderers. We call upon all Maltese people of good will to join us Friday, 29 November 2019 at 6pm to join us in a spontaneous, peaceful but angry protest. At Castille Place, Valletta.”
The urgent Cabinet meeting came at the end of another long day of police investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The Office of the Prime Minister also cancelled an international committment that was set for Sunday regarding climate change in Spain.
Last Tuesday, Keith Schembri resigned the role of chief of staff and since then he has been held by the police for questioning in connection with the case. Minister Konrad Mizzi resigned and Minister Chris Cardona suspended himself on the same day.
Several members of Cabinet and MPs made their way into Castille at around 8pm Thursday evening, and were not vocal about the reason for the meeting
Many of them were asked whether the meeting was called because the Prime Minister will be resigning, however none answered the question.
Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne was not willing to reveal what his reason for entering Castille was, saying that the situation is serious and that he would be able to talk afterwards.
Family Minister Michael Falzon only said that matters of Cabinet are reserved.
Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, who has been vocal in his opinions on Facebook over recent days and had called for the resignation of former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, also walked in silent.
Environment Minister Jose Herrera just said ‘no comment’.
Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli was also tight-lipped about her reason for walking into Castille at that late hour.
Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing Anthony Agius Decelis said that “we are here to lead the country 24 hours a day.” Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia echoed the “24/7” sentiment. “My times are 24 hours, 7 days a week.” “I am always available for all work.”
Asked why tonight, he said that they are having a discussion and once done, they will inform the press about it.” He would not answer questions relating to whether there will be resignations. “What I can say is that there will be information once we finish Cabinet.”
PL Whip Byron Camilleri and PL MP Robert Abela also walked into the building.
Videos and Photos by Alenka Falzon, Domenic Aquilina, Giulia Magri and ALbert Galea