The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

Caruana Galizia inquiry - Keith Schembri's influence was too much, Bartolo says

Wednesday, 29 July 2020, 09:59 Last update: about 17 days ago

The public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination will continue in court this morning.

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo - who was minister for education under Joseph Muscat's government - is expected to take the witness stand.

The public inquiry is tasked with, amongst other things, determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the Caruana Galizia murder from happening.

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija home on 16 October 2017. Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

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Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three executors of the crime, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all. Theuma is currently receiving treatment in hospital for serious wounds he sustained, which the police said were self-inflicted.

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia, former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

Please refresh for updates:

11:32 The next sitting is scheduled for Friday, when PN MEP David Casa will be testifying. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is due to testify on 12 August, if he is available

11:32 Bartolo testimony ends and he leaves the stand

11:32 Asked whether he had ever been given an explanation for the power and influence of Keith Schembri, Bartolo says Schembri had an important role because he was chief of staff. He says that he didn't know if Nexia BT's Brian Tonna and Karl Cini had an office in Castille

11:25 The board disallows a question about the composition of Keith Schembri's shadow government, saying that the ministers would all answer themselves

11:24 Bartolo says that he doesn't have a list of freemasons, but if he did have he wouldn't have a problem answering the question

11:23 Jason Azzopardi now asks Bartolo a direct question: "The hidden network you mentioned... is it freemasonry?"

11:23 Bartolo is asked whether he knew if John Rizzo's removal from police commissioner was discussed in Parliament. As far as he knew, it was the prime minister's decision, Bartolo replies

11:21 The minister is asked whether he know that the Italian government had offered assistance to Malta to fight organised crime, previous to the Caruana Galizia murder. Bartolo says he was unaware of this. "So you don't know why the government refused it?". "No," the minister reiterates

11:20 Bartolo is now asked at which point did he know when the 2017 election was going to be held. Briefly before, the minister replies, adding that he was not surprised, however. "The climate was such that an election was warranted," he says

11:18 Bartolo retorts: "He [Azzopardi] is no saint and has a lot of things to be ashamed of. I prefer sinners to Pharisees."

11:17 Farrugia and Bartolo had asked for the creation of the position of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the minister says. At this point Azzopardi gets irritated. "I am not going to allow a witness to lie," the lawyer says

11:16 Azzopardi asks about the 2016 [Panama Papers] no confidence vote which Bartolo voted against. Bartolo asks that Godfrey Farrugia, who was then a Labour MP, be summoned to explain what he and Bartolo had done in that situation. Azzopardi and Bartolo trade barbs as the sitting heats up

11:11 Azzopardi refers to the nearly 30-year [Labour Party] campaign targeting Caruana Galizia. "Does the minister think that a political party should use its strength to discredit a journalist?" the lawyer asks the minister. "No," Bartolo replies. Asked whether he concedes that this had in fact have taken place after the Panama Papers were published, Bartolo says "We must make an effort to keep our disagreements civilised"

11:09 Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi takes over questioning Bartolo. Bartolo had been a journalist himself, points out Azzopardi. "What if I were to tell you that Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered long before the date of her death?" Azzopardi says

11:05 Bartolo is now asked about Freedom of Information (FOI) requests being refused. He replies that he had worked to introduce the position of Ombudsman, for criminal libel to be removed, and for SLAPP to be addressed. He says he believes that information is crucial to democracy

11:03 "I will speak about financial services, as it was discussed in Parliament. I am very disappointed to see the framework built by [the late former PN MP] Mario Felice being destroyed. I am referring to [ex-MFSA chairperson] Joe Bannister... a regulator who had secret companies himself. Nobody took action, not Fenech Adami, not Gonzi, not Muscat, who ignored me. The only person to take action was Alfred Sant."

11:01 She goes on to ask whether Pilatus Bank had been discussed in Parliament, and whether the Electrogas deal had been a Cabinet decision. "Do you see the predetermined [Electrogas] contract as part of [the] impunity [situation]?" she asks

11:00 The minister's testimony continues. Comodini Cachia asks whether he felt the relationship between government and big business brought about a situation of impunity

10:59 The board notes that Bartolo is the first minister to testify in the inquiry, but will not be the last

10:57 "We need to go for public financing of parties, unless we want them to be breeding grounds for corruption" Bartolo says

10:53 The subject turns to other scandals. Bartolo says the Cafe Premier and Gaffarena deals had been discussed in Parliament. "If we love our country, we must make an effort to stop these things from happening. I have a hope that these changes will take place... without being melodramatic, a national examination of conscience is needed," the minister stresses

10:51 Bartolo says that he was not alone in commenting and making pressure from the inside. Inquiry board member Judge Abigail Lofaro comments that the changes started happening after the protests by civil society. Bartolo says that this was not the only cause of the government changes

10:49 Comodini Cachia asks about Bartolo's social media comments on centres of power and friendship ties. "If you says there was a shadow government... do you mean there was a shadow government led by Keith Schembri?" she asks. Bartolo replies in the affirmative

10:47 The line of questioning turns to the Vitals/Steward hospitals deal. "Was it discussed in Cabinet?" Bartolo is asked, to which he replies in the negative. The recently publish National Audit Office report was the first place he had heard of the details, he tells the board. "In Cabinet these details did not emerge," he says

10:45 Comodini Cachia asks about when Bartolo made a reference on social media to "qattiela li qed jiġu protetti" (murders who are being protected). Bartolo says that, at the time, the investigation into Daphne's murder needed to be strengthened. "I would be irresponsible if I don't say this: let us ensure that all avenues are explored completely," the minister says

10:42 Bartolo says that he had heard that Caruana Galizia had been offered police protection. Therese Comodini Cachia asks where he heard had heard as much, or whether it was just the political narrative. "I heard it in a general manner, from the media. Caruana Galizia herself had said that she felt it was a method of controlling her movements, if I'm not mistaken," Bartolo says

10:36 "One of the biggest limitations of our country is its size. Abroad, if they suspect police involvement, they can bring in another police force from a different part of the country," Bartolo notes. "But in Malta, where can you go? Gozo? Comino? You need external oversight," he says

10:35 Bartolo now appeals to police commissioner Angelo Gafa to make an analysis of the situation and to devise a plan in that regard. The minister tells the board that he had made a similar appeal to the previous police commissioner (Lawrence Cutajar) too. "It is a chance to turn over a new leaf and take stock of what is there," he says

10:32 The inquiry board member now ask Bartolo about Daphne Caruana Galizia. The minister says she had been a student of his. He says he didn't think she was proud of her teacher. "The murder of a journalist is atrocious. We've had journalists exiled, jailed and denounced by the church as hell-bound, but we never had this," Bartolo tells the board

10:31 "If you do something... then at least you've done something. You don't need to be a hero," Bartolo says.

10:30 "I made a strong gesture, in 2016 with Godfrey Farrugia... I preferred instead of a symbolic gesture, I tried to change at least a millimetre of reality," Bartolo says, in reference to when he and then government MP Godfrey Farrugia has suggested Konrad Mizzi should resign following the Panama Papers revelations.

10:26 The inquiry board now ask Bartolo about the unanimous approval in Parliament of Muscat's measures and in confidence votes. "I used to be a problem child. I respect the work of organisations such as Graffiti as they knock on doors and demand things to be done. I don't work like that, though," Bartolo says in justification of his toeing the party line in Parliament.

10:25 This was a new level of corruption, observes Said Pullicino. "We'll have to summon them [those allegedly involved] one by one." “You’d do well to do so,” says Bartolo

10:20 “Unless we introduce sanctions, they will not take us seriously,” Bartolo says. He points out that nobody was arraigned after the Panama Papers. “This should not be the case,” he says

10:19 "So, the crucifix here is for nothing," agrees Bartolo, referring to the oath he just took

10:17 Bartolo agrees with the board for the need for increased scrutiny on the government. "But nobody knows anything,” Lofaro remarks

10:16 "I think you know where it stops. We are now spreading power so it doesn't concentrate. But I maintain that a change in mentality, in morality is needed,” Bartolo says 

10:15 The board now asks Bartolo "where does the buck stop?" 

10:15 Civil society took to the streets to protest, noted inquiry board member Abigail Lofaro. "And they did well... in a democratic society, everyone must play their part," replies Bartolo 

10:14 "I repeat, I spoke to the prime minister and others,” Bartolo says. Asked by the board what the reaction of those he spoke to was, Bartolo says “there was none” 

10:13 Inquiry board head Mallia points out that it looked on the outside as if it was business as usual as corruption was being exposed during Joseph Muscat’s tenure. “How do you explain that?” he asks Bartolo

10:12 “I spoke to the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi… I spoke to Cabinet,” Bartolo tells the board

10:11 Comodini Cachia turns the focus back to Bartolo’s Twitter postings. She asks whether the minister was tweeting about tax evasion alone, or also money laundering. “You said you did your best… but what did you do?" Comodini Cachia asks

10:08 "Some think I'm anti-business. This is not the case... In other tweets, I had said that the influence of Keith Schembri was too much. The concentration of power was too great and not good for the country,” Bartolo says

10:07 Inquiry board head Michael Mallia now asks Bartolo who he had in mind when he was tweeting about corruption 

10:06 Said Pullicino says that the Cabinet has a lot of blame too. He points to many corrupt deals. "I did my best, you have to ask other people," replies Bartolo. “I answer for what I did myself,” he says 

10:02 “Personal integrity is good but behaviour is not enough you need institutions. Personally I feel we need to conduct a national examination of conscience. Politicians have a lot of blame to bear, the courts have a lot to bear…” Bartolo continues to tell the board 

10:00 Evarist Bartolo now recounts an event from the past. He says a lawyer had once invited him to a rabbit lunch at a farmhouse. On going there, he found lawyers, and a judge and others also in attendance. "I left there and swore I would never accept that kind of hospitality again. It is too easy to end up with two governments,” Bartolo says

09:58 "From a young age, I understood that one of the greatest problems we had was the small size of our country. It brings with it incest in every aspect of life. This incest leads to degeneration,” Bartolo tells the board 

09:58 "You were a voice in the wilderness,” inquiry board member Judge Abigail Lofaro tells Evarist Bartolo 

09:57 “You were feeling that there were secret friend networks”, adds Mallia. Bartolo refers the board to a speech he made in Parliament in May 2016 as a reaction to the Panama Papers. “A person who opens accounts in secretive jurisdictions is not acceptable in public life... It may be legally acceptable, but not morally or politically,” Bartolo tells the board, “You end up with two levels of government” 

09:56 Inquiry board member and former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino explains that the Panama Papers had changed the face of journalism. He reads a tweet of Bartolo's about the Panama Papers. Bartolo confirms that he had been referring to tax evasion in the said tweet 

09:55 Inquiry board head and retired judge Mallia now asks about a Facebook post of Bartolo’s. "You say things which are true and very laudable,” Mallia says 

09:48 “Relations between states should pass through the existing official channels... I use no other channels,” Bartolo emphasises 

09:48 Comodini Cachia says that Gafa had been to Libya to speak on behalf of the government. “Who would have sent him - Foreign Affairs?” she asks. "I can only answer for myself. Since I became minister, no person by that name was engaged with the ministry,” Bartolo replies

09:47 "I didn't need to check because at no point did I have the intention of involving this person [Gafa] in the work of my ministry,” Bartolo responds in reply to Comodini Cachia’s statement. Bartolo says one would need to determine whether any role Gafa had fell under the home affairs or foreign affairs ministries 

09:43 Comodini Cachia now explains to Bartolo that the files relating to ministry employees remain in the ministry. She asks him to check such files in terms of determining Gafa's past role within the Foreign Ministry 

 09:42 Speaking in a quiet, low voice, Bartolo bats away questions about Gafa. Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia takes notes 

09:41 "In the preceding months [before my tenure], it appears that he [Neville Gafa] had a role... from the last six months onwards he had no role, I can assure you,” Bartolo says 

09:41 The board remarks that ministers must talk between themselves. But Bartolo insists that he never heard anything about Gafa’s role. "Certainly, in my presence, no discussion was made about his role" 

09:40 Evarist Bartolo tells the inquiry that he had not information as to what Neville Gafa did before his tenure as Foreign Minister started 

09:39 “Absolutely none,” Bartolo replies. "I speak for the past six months when I was in the role - he [Neville Gafa] had no function within my ministry.” 

09:38 Michael Mallia, who heads the board, asks Bartolo about the conflicting information regarding the role of former OPM staff member Neville Gafa. “What function does he have in the Foreign Ministry?” Mallia asks. 

09:36 Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo takes the stand and is administered the oath 

09:36 The inquiry board members have entered the courtroom, and the inquiry has now started 

09:36 Good morning. We're back in court for the continuation of the public inquiry into Daphne's murder 

 

 

 

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