The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

Paqpaqli accident: President's outburst - 'Do you want me to take responsibility for it?'

Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 11:20 Last update: about 4 years ago

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said the Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina charity event was organised by third parties and she had no involvement in its running. Coleiro Preca took the witness stand on Wednesday morning to testify in the case against British millionaire Paul Bailey and the event organisers after the ill-fated 2015 event.

In her testimony, a visibly frustrated President asked whether her grilling meant that she was expected to take responsibility for what happened.

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Bailey, who was invited by the organisers, lost control of his Porsche 918 Spyder as he drove down the runway at Malta International Airport, ploughing into the crowd and injuring 23 people. The driver and the event organisers were charged with involuntarily causing grievous bodily harm, as well causing damage to various motor vehicles, through imprudence, carelessness and non-observance of regulations.

The case is being heard in front of Judge Wenzu Mintoff.

At one point, Coleiro Preca rebuffed the lawyer when he suggested the MCCF was involved in the event’s organisation, asking him “not to put words in her mouth”.

Coleiro Preca told the court this morning that she was there to “say the facts as I know them”.

She was asked about the objectives of the Community Chest Fund, to which the President replied, “to do social justice, help people who go abroad for medical treatment, help the disabled, vulnerable families and children in orphanages and gather funds for NGOs”.

Coleiro Preca specified that she did not have an executive role but only chaired the Community Chest Fund’s board. “I don’t have a vote,” she added.

Giving an outline of the organisation, she said the Community Chest Fund had a supervisory council board of administrators. Coleiro Preca said she gave her patronage to fundraising activities.

The Community Chest Fund organises events such as the annual Rockestra and the fun run. It also gets involved in third-party fund raising events.

She explained that l-Istrina was organised and run by the Community Chest Fund Foundation and Paqpaqli was a third-party event in aid of the organisation.

However, at the time the Community Chest Fund was not yet a foundation. “I was still taking stock of things,” she said.

Focussing on the Paqpaqli charity event, she said it was organised by a team led by Tonio Darmanin and the organisers were allowed to use the Community Chest Fund’s branding.

Asked about the board meetings, Coleiro Preca said she did not attend administration meetings and did not know whether there were discussions about Paqpaqli.

The President said she did not know what type of approval was necessary, when asked about the use of the l-Istrina logo by third parties. She was shown a promotional flyer of the event displaying the L-Istrina logo.

She noted that Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina was an event that already existed when she took office in 2014. “All I know is that it was a TV programme... a lot of the people involved I only saw once in 2015,” she said.

Coleiro Preca said her aide-de-camp, Captain Borg, had advised her to meet the previous ADC Mark Mallia so as to speak with Tonio Darmanin, who was the TV presenter behind Paqpaqli. The event generated funding and she was advised to retain it.

“I had asked Tonio Darmanin whether he was interested in continuing the charity event,” Coleiro Preca said, adding she did not get involved in the organisation.

Coleiro Preca said throughout her life she only attended the Paqpaqli charity show twice for half an hour each time.

Asked what was the MCCF’s interest in such events, Coleiro Preca said this depended on the demands of organisers. “MCCF’s interest in Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina was to collect money like in any other event.”

Coleiro Preca said details of discussions were available from the minutes of board meetings. “There was a team handling the organisation of the event with Darmanin. We acted according to requests. I don't know the details, although they met at San Anton Palace.”

The President said she could not answer for things that happened before her time.

Grilled on the organising team’s board members, Coleiro Preca said Darmanin was the organiser and she left it up to him.

She identified the board members that were indicated to her by the lawyer, which included Lt Col Melvin Haber from the Armed Forces of Malta, Noel Zarb, the Office of the President’s communications coordinator, Ray Arpa and Karl Briffa, also from the president’s office.

She said Briffa was looking into the financial aspects of the event and what it cost the MCCF.

The lawyer asked why Briffa was evaluating the financial aspects of a third-party event when the MCCF was only a beneficiary.

The President said this was a technical matter to determine whether the fundraiser was worth doing.

At one point, Coleiro Preca rebuffed the lawyer when he suggested the MCCF was involved in the event’s organisation.

“KPMG [an audit firm] handled the money. So should they be considered organisers too? I came to testify. I chose to take the stand like everyone else, refused privileged treatment but don't give me kids games and put words in my mouth.”

Lawyer Stefano Filletti objected to the line of questioning, insisting the President was being asked about documents she had not seen, about meetings she had not attended.

The President insisted that although some of the people on the committee were employed by the Office of the President, they were acting as volunteers.

After a prolonged grilling on the details of the organisation of the event, the President became frustrated. “I know this is a court but let's ask what you want - do you want me to take responsibility for it? I am grieved to death for the victims, I came here with no privileges to see that justice is done.”

The judge brought order to the court after the President’s outburst.

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