The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

PN had turned down power station project, passport scheme which Labour later endorsed

Albert Galea Wednesday, 12 February 2020, 14:10 Last update: about 7 months ago

Former Nationalist Party secretary general Paul Borg Olivier testified today that when the PN was in government, it had been offered a power station project which then turned out to be very similar to the one that the successive Labour government wanted in 2013.

Testifying before the board holding a public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Borg Olivier said that Henley and Partners had also offered the PN government a passport scheme which was later endorsed by the Labour government.

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The PN had turned down both the power station project and the power station scheme.

Judge Michael Mallia is the chairman of the inquiry board.

Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro are the two other members.

The inquiry was set up to determine whether any wrongful action or omission by, or within, any State entity facilitated the assassination or failed to prevent it.

Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb on 16 October 2017.

Follow the minute by minute updates below. Refresh for the latest

4.03pm: It will be Josef Caruana and Matthew Carbone to testify on Monday, while Glenn Bedingfield will face the board the following Wednesday.  Neville Gafa's name is also being mentioned for Wednesday, but this is dependent on whether someone actually manages to locate the elusive former OPM official.

3.57pm: The next sitting will be on Monday at 14:30 and the board is currently deliberating on who to summon next.

3.55pm: She said that she had made a report to the police and sent the footage to the police in November via WeTransfer, but had received a phone call from the police a couple of weeks ago stating that the link had expired. WeTransfer links generally only remain valid for a short amount of time. "It was a traumatic incident", Agius tells the board.

3.51pm: She too speaks of how everybody had refused to tell journalists as to who the people who had locked the doors inside Castille were, but that some of these had later been identified after the footage emerged

3.50pm: Agius presents footage from that night to the board.  She explains that after someone had said that Matthew Caruana Galizia was trying to get into the press conference as well, OPM officials had asked for press cards to enter which resulted in Caruana Galizia stating that they were only asking for press cards so that he would not be allowed to enter.

3.46pm: Comodini Cachia asks whether this was standard practice for press conferences, to which Xuereb replies that it had never happened in such press conferences.  She said that she had filed a report with the police about the incident, but that she has heard nothing back from the police since.

3.43pm: Xuereb now speaks of a report she filed between 28 and 29 November when she was locked inside Castille.  She explains that this was an incident when they were waiting outside Castille to ask questions to the Prime Minister, after which point Minister entered Castille for what turned out to the a Cabinet meeting. She explains how journalists were placed behind barriers up until 3am after which they were allowed to enter Castille for a press conference which she said was about the pardon for Melvin Theuma - although it was in actual fact about the rejection of the pardon for Yorgen Fenech.  After the press conference, she said, the room was locked by people whom she did not know and journalists were only allowed to leave the room after 7 or 8 minutes, but they remained none the wiser as to who these people were and why they were kept in the room.

3.36pm: Agius now describes an incident during the November protests outside parliament, where some MPs decided to walk down Ordinance Street, what she described as "clear provocation", and were then followed by the media.  At that point a person had pushed her out of the way after she attempted to ask a question to Clint Camilleri, she said. Agius said that she had made a report with the police about this incident, but that the police had not gotten back to her on this report even though she had identified the person.

3.34pm: Therese Comodini Cachia asks whether in the course of their work, they had ever been confronted with harassment or intimidation while working.  Agius states that there were some incidents in November and December 2019, and another incident when during the last MEP elections there was a press conference where she had asked Joseph Muscat when he would leave his role, to which Muscat had replied that in 30 seconds he would be leaving from where he is, at which point he "grabbed me by the shoulder, turned me around, and left".

3.31pm: That comment concludes Muscat's testimony.  Monique Agius and Miguela Xuereb, who both work with Newsbook, now take the stand together.

3.27pm: In the days before Daphne was killed, Muscat explains, the two were having a late-night conversation over Whatsapp where Daphne had told her that she had "a sense of time running out".  One of Daphne's sisters, at this comment, gets up from the spectator's benches and bursts into tears as she runs out of the courtroom.

3.25pm: Muscat identifies the person who uploaded the fake story about The Shift. She said that he claims to be a lawyer working in Malta with an iGaming company who was active at different points in time targeting government critics. He has been identified for the Economic Crimes Unit, but the investigation hasn't continued after the police had not spoken to the person, she said.

3.23pm: Muscat adds that her site had experienced several attacks, one of which has been reported to the Council of Europe and which remains unresolved by the Maltese government.  They were weekly and were namely when The Shift was investigating Konrad Mizzi's dealings such as those related to Streamcast and Vitals Global Healthcare.

3.19pm: She states that even though she holds an international press card, she is not allowed access to government events or even access to the calendar of events for ministers. "Have you registered with the DOI", Madam Justice Lofaro asks; "Why should I?", Muscat replies before noting that the Media and Defamation Act implemented by the government means that it is the government itself which decides who is a journalist and who is not, and that there is no reason for her to register with the DOI since the law on information access had been changed.

3.15pm: One such case was when The Shift was threatened with a SLAPP suit by Henley & Partners and someone sent an image to Henley seemingly taken from MaltaToday showing a 'sponsored' post by The Shift labelling Christian Kalin a murderer - where no such post ever existed. She said that the Cyber Crime Unit had identified the person behind the post, but had not taken any criminal action against him.

3.11pm: Madam Justice Lofaro asks to which authorities these matters were reported, to which Muscat replies that reports were filed with the police.  "When we go to the police station we end up spending two hours trying to justify that we are journalists even though we do not hold a DOI-issued press card", she tells the board.

3.10pm: She goes through her dossier, pointing out screenshots with certain comments such as that "Daphne cannot rest in peaces because she is in pieces", and others which said that with the end of one "witch" (Daphne), another emerges - where a picture of her own face would be attached.

3.08pm: After Caruana Galizia was murdered, Muscat said, the dehumanisation campaign against her continued but also spread to other government critics.

3.05pm: Online harassment ties closely to disinformation, she explains. She said that these online channels were flooded with counter-narratives which are often blatantly untrue. One example, she said, was the so-called Truth Project, which was made up to counter the starting of The Daphne Project, and which produced narratives such as shifting the blame of the murder onto the PN or even onto members of Daphne's own family, and questioning where Caruana Galizia's laptop was.

3.01pm: Muscat points out that when The Shift exposed these groups, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, most MPs, and other aspiring politicians were all members of the groups.  Coleiro Preca left the groups after they were exposed and condemned hate speech, but former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat never condemned the group's behaviour and only left on the third time of asking.

2.58pm: State sponsored trolling has various criteria: past instances of threats to journalists or activists, the involvement of senior government officials, and a marked blurring between the truth and propaganda. She cited an article penned and published by Bloomberg which found that Malta satisfies all these criteria.

2.57pm: "These groups were celebrating Daphne's death.  It was at that point that people got in touch with us and told us what was happening in those groups", Muscat tells the board.

2.52pm: "Malta is one of the few countries where we have managed to prove state sponsored trolling," she said before noting that the groups were administered by people who worked at the Justice Ministry.

2.51pm: She named government MPs Rosianne Cutajar and Glenn Bedingfield, along with other well known government officials such as Josef Caruana, Tony Zarb, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Mark Farrugia, Robert Musumeci and Neville Gafa as only some actively involved in the groups.

2.50pm: Muscat explains the main findings of her research: that the online discourse in Malta was increasingly polarised and abrasive, that there was significant involvement of government officials, that there was a "high degree" of control and coordination on the content being shared which aimed solely to dehumanise Caruana Galizia.

2.46pm: She said that the things they saw in the groups were "quite frankly shocking", and were posted by people who work with the government such as Neville Gafa and eventually 'liked' by government MPs as well.  The dehumansation campaign, as she called it, was present before Caruana Galizia's death but continued after. The groups had been there for seven years, she explains.

2.44pm: Muscat explains that after Caruana Galizia's assassination, The Shift had identified a pattern in derogatory remarks relating to the murder, which led to The Shift monitoring, for six months, six secret and closed groups online which had a total of 60,000 members.  For one to join these groups, she explains, one had to show a valid Labour Party membership.  She said that first a number of whistleblowers had come forward and showed them things from the groups, after which they had obtained access to the groups themselves.

2.43pm: Therese Comodini Cachia, another lawyer for the family, explains to the board that Muscat has been summoned to testify about harassment that she had received as a journalist and how such harassment can result in the character assassination of a journalist such as had happened in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

2.39pm: That concludes Borg Olivier's testimony.  Caroline Muscat from The Shift News is next to testify.

2.38pm: "I cannot say that anyone gave me a donation which was aimed at compromising me or the party.  What I can say is that party's financing was such that a receipt was always given, and that certain donations were done in the form of a cheque as well," he explains when asked about the ties between political parties and big donors.

2.34pm: Borg Olivier points out that Christian Kalin from Henley & Partners had also met him in the same period, to which the party had replied that the sovereignty of the Maltese passport was not up for discussion.

2.32pm: Borg Olivier describes Apap Bologna as a "salesman" who had gone to him to sell the project. He explains that he felt that the project presented to him in 2009 was extremely close to the requirements that were eventually released in 2013.  He is asked whether Apap Bologna had mentioned whether he had spoken to any government representative about the project, to which he replies in the negative.

2.29pm: Judge Mallia asks about the Maltese families behind the project, but Borg Olivier states that while he was given indications as to their identities, he was never told directly told who they were.

2.26pm: Jason Azzopardi, representing the family, asks how the meeting between the two had ended and what the outcome was.  Borg Olivier replies that it was a "cordial" meeting but that the line which he had taken at the time was that the government had its own energy plan at the time, and things stopped there.

2.25pm: Borg Olivier presents two media articles: one by Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2013, and another published by The Malta Independent at around the same time. He also presents the abridged version of the National Audit Office's findings on Electrogas.

2.23pm: Borg Olivier pointed out that the proposals in the presentation and the terms in the RFP were ultimately very similar, with the only difference being that the gas supply agreement was changed from 20 years to 18 years.

2.22pm: Borg Olivier states that he had asked Apap Bologna about how this would factor in given that the government of the day was in the midst of discussions for a second interconnector, but Apap Bologna had kept insisting about the importance of this power station and that the government would not take any expense, and that this was not a consortium made up of only foreigners, but also of local families.  

Gasol is mentioned in the presentation, Borg Olivier explains. Gasol was part of the Electrogas consortium until the company folded.  He also explains that Apap Bologna had said that the local consortium would be called GEM - which eventually turned into GEM Holdings when it was registered in May 2013.

"He told me: 'we will do our bit if you do yours' - all I got when I asked what that meant was silence and half a laugh", Borg Olivier said.

2.16pm: Borg Olivier explains that Paul Apap Bologna had asked for a meeting with him, in which he had made a presentation about a gas-powered power station.  He explains that it is interesting that the presentation shows a power-station which is almost identical to that eventually built after 2013. The presentation is submitted to the board.

2.15pm: He will testify on something which happened in 2009, when Borg Olivier was the Secretary General of the Nationalist Party.

2.13pm: Paul Borg Olivier will testify first.

2.12pm: The sitting is about to start.

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