Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has defended his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, saying that the latter was answering all questions put to him in a magisterial inquiry on 17 Black.
Earlier today, Schembri withdrew a defamation suit he had filed against PN MP Simon Busuttil, saying that “many of his fundamental and constitutional rights are being prejudiced and because the witness is collaborating with the judicial authorities in other, connected, proceedings, he is at this stage unconditionally ceding the libel suit.”
The Malta Independent asked Muscat whether he would be removing Schembri after this morning’s developments. Muscat, who was making his way to Parliament, asked the journalist what her interpretation of what happened is. The journalist replied that Schembri is doing everything he can to avoid testifying in the case.
Replying, Muscat said Schembri is replying to all questions in the inquiry. He [Schembri] quoted a decision by the superior courts saying that no other testimony should be given if there is an ongoing inquiry, Muscat said.
“The magistrate did not agree with this, and he has every liberty to do so, but the legal advice that Keith Schemrbi has is that he should not testify in any other case once there is an ongoing inquiry.”
Pressed to say whether he will be removing Schembri, the PM again said he did not understand the journalist’s interpretation. “I think you read too much Simon Busuttil. He has no credibility. Once the inquiry is concluded, all the facts will be made public.”
A short while later Opposition Leader Adrian Delia asked whether the PM would be making a ministerial statement. Was this situation acceptable to him, and would he defend silence against the truth? Will he shoulder the political responsibility, Delia asked.
Muscat said he would not make a ministerial statement on the issue but said Delia had also dropped a court case in which he would have faced questions about possible money laundering. “The Opposition Leader had been given the same advice because of an ongoing inquiry.”
The PM said he always respects court decisions, adding that the Opposition lacked level-headedness and consistency.
Delia then insisted that he wanted to reply to the PM, but was stopped by Speaker Anglu Farrugia, who said the Opposition Leader was “completely out of order.”
This newsroom also approached Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, who refused to give comments.
Speaking later during the plenary debate, Delia said it seems that some people are treated different than others. If it is someone close to the PM, the law does not apply. Politicians must lead by example, he said, and be accountable to the people. There is a different meaning to equality when it comes to politicians, Delia said.
According to the PM, people in the highest positions of trust do not have to submit themselves to public scrutiny. “What the PM is saying is that a politician who represents the people and is paid by the people does not have to answer to the people.”
Schembri invoked his right to remain silent so as not to incriminate himself. This is not normal in a democracy, Delia continued, adding that the PM has to make Schembri do what is right. The PM and the Justice Minister are supposed to be doing all they can to restore the country’s reputation. They had an opportunity to do this today.
Replying to the PM’s earlier accusation, Delia said he had never refused to testify in court when asked to do so. “If there is something the institutions need to investigate, then I am here and available for every question, unlike Keith Schembri.”
He asked what Schembri is running from. “This story will not end here,” he declared. “Justice has a long arm and, if not today, the whole truth will come out tomorrow.”
He also asked whether there was at least one minister who would put Malta and its people first.
Video: Alenka Falzon