The Malta Independent 13 December 2019, Friday

Muscat says FBI involvement in Daphne investigation 'crucial'; has not decided if will stay on as MP

Monday, 2 December 2019, 17:31 Last update: about 10 days ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described the FBI as being extremely crucial in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation during his Parliamentary speech, while also referring to his upcoming resignation as Prime Minister and not excluding that he will remain on as an MP.

In a debate that was meant to centre around the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Prime Minister eventually went into his resignation, and the future of the Labour Party. The Opposition had earlier walked out of Parliament, due to Muscat not having yet stepped down from power.

“When Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed, I promised to do all I can till all those who killed her were brought to justice,” Muscat said. He mentioned that someone has now been taken before the court as the alleged mastermind behind the murder, and said he kept his promise to come to Parliament.

He said that he needs to be careful not to prejudice the case by what he says. He said that two months after the murder, three people were brought before the courts for allegedly killing the journalist.

Muscat said that the crucial moment was the request to the American government to send experts and resources, adding that this was the most crucial bit of the investigation.

Turning to the importance of the FBI involvement, he said that the number of car bombings over the years were not a small number, and none of these had been solved. He said that the resources in Malta include strong mainstream practices, but do not include the advanced technology which only a few countries have, like the USA.

Muscat said that the USA Charge d’Affairs had asked what they can do, and that the government then called back asking them to send some aid, and the FBI then came. He said that without the FBI resources – and not just referring to intelligence and know-how – “In no imaginable way would we have arrived to the three persons who allegedly carried out the murder.”

The outgoing Prime Minister said that that some people believed everything stopped when three people were charged with the murder, as it was more than had occurred in some of Malta’s major cases, like that of Karin Grech.

Muscat said that he and other ministers were being asked in Parliament and by the media, what is happening with the investigations. “We used to say that we cannot speak liberally about investigations, as politicians cannot lead them, and said that such things have to be said by investigators and I do not think it makes sense for investigators to speak while investigations are on-going.”

He said that everyone who before asked us for details of the investigation, are today saying “why are you speaking about this issue.”

Muscat called the investigation the biggest in Maltese history, and said that the amount for resources used in this investigation is unprecedented. He said that there was a unit setup specifically to investigate this case 24/7.

He said that investigations were coordinated by the competent authorities, like the police, and said that the crucial steps were taken in agreement and in coordination with two crucial points of reference. These were Europol who gave continuous input on how crucial parts of the operations can take place, and the second was the independent inquiring magistrate who is kept up to date with all the developments of the investigation.

The outgoing PM said that he was given general briefings and some details relating to the progress that occurred. He said that he was unable to give comments or react to certain news reports that read that nothing was being done to solve the case, “even though I knew that this was not true. There was constant progress. Investigators took the time they needed to coordinate on the different levels. “

Muscat said that different police sections, in coordination with Europol and members of other security services, made a number of raids and arrested a number of people in an anti-money laundering operation. One of the arrested persons was a suspect in the Caruana Galizia murder. “He offered to testify and present recordings to reveal the mastermind.”

“I did not negotiate with the middleman,” he said, adding that it was the AG and the police who negotiated with the person who was arrested, and then advised him whether he should recommend that immunity be given or not. “The alleged middleman’s lawyers wanted him to be given a pardon before giving the information. I refused even on the advice of the Police Chief and the AG. Instead I signed a letter with the Police Chief and the AG where I would give recommendation for the pardon if he cooperates on the crimes.”

“I carry full responsibility on this decision. Investigators analysed the information and it was cleared with the person concerned, nearly everything he said and what was said in recordings. I was then advices by the AG and Police Chief that there was enough evidence to be corroborated.”

He said that immunity was then given on 25 November.” This person needs to testify on the murder as well as three important cases, which it is not prudent to say what they are publicly.” He said that these three cases are very important and are not minor. “They are not related to this case, but are mentioned in the immunity agreement, and he needs to cooperate on them,” Muscat said.

Muscat said that he felt that he should carry this responsibility himself.

Muscat then said that Fenech also wanted immunity, and he told the police and the AG to move according to procedure. “After the first versions were given, the written recommendation to me was that I should not recommend the pardon. The police spoke to a number of people including the AG before saying this.”

He said that a second request for a pardon was made, and he told the AG and the police to listen to his final version, adding that Fenech had made allegations about his former Chief of Staff which are and were investigated. He said that on 28 November, he asked Cabinet to listen to the investigators and the AG, “and I left for this part of the meeting, if there were specific reasons for this pardon. Whether they agreed with AG and police that it shouldn’t be given.” Muscat said they unanimously said that no pardon should be given.

A few hours after the Cabinet meeting, the police continued investigating until they were able to charge Fenech on Saturday 30 November.

Muscat said that the process is not over, “and is at the beginning of a delicate judicial process, where everything said can prejudice the case.”

He said that after assuring that they will not prejudice the investigations, “I appointed a public inquiry led by former Judge Michael Mallia. The composition of the inquiry had been challenged by the Caruana Galizia family.  He said it would not have made sense to launch such an inquiry without the trust of the family. He said that meetings took place and there was an agreement over the other two inquiry board members, who were not the same as the two originally proposed, as well as adjustments to the terms of reference. “The board has 9 months to say whether the State could have done something to avoid the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

The Caruana Galizia family was kept in contact by the police, where they were given up to date with the direction of the investigations, but said he does not know what kind of information was passed, he said.

“The crucial point is that we have arrived at a point where a person was charged with being the mastermind. It is not our job as politicians to judge whether a person is guilty or not. That is the court’s job. I will not let us become a kangaroo court.”

Turning to his resignation announcement, he said that he wanted to close this case while he remained Prime Minister and did not want to be like his predecessors, not closing any such major cases.  He clarified that he meant a breakthrough by this.

“I always said that I did not intend to abdicate this responsibility.”

Muscat said that he still has the backing of the majority. He also said that he has the full trust of all MPs in the PL Parliamentary Group. He said that in every PL Parliamentary Group meeting, or Cabinet meeting, he felt companionship, and that “they were all speaking and discussing together, deciding together. These meetings took hours, and it wasn’t a meeting of sheep, ‘saying yes, sir yes sir’. Every person who spoke, spoke about something relevant.”

“I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to again address this house as an MP, but it is probably the last time I will speak as a Prime Minister. I see a situation where when Parliament meets in January we will have a new Prime Minister. The one who comes after me, keep the unity by the government, which is not easy. We were faced by the resignation of a minister, the Prime Minister and the suspension of a minister, yet this group is as compact as last week. Here you have a government that was faced with a massive national challenge, with major decisions that were taken, and a government that I know will continue its mandate for 2 and a half years.”

He said that whoever the PL chooses to lead, there will be someone who can lead. “If I am still an MP, I wish to say that whoever the leader will be, they will have my unconditional loyalty.”

The people who are being mentioned to challenge for the leadership, I wish them well, and what I can assure is that if I am still an MP, they have my unconditional loyalty as a backbencher. I have not decided if that is part of my future or not, or if I will leave politics for good. I assure them my vote for the PL in the coming election.”

Muscat mentioned that in truth, when asked before by journalists whether it was going to be his last budget (where he had said no), he had not been sure, but said if he had said so it would have created too much uncertainty.

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