The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Zammit Lewis admits he dined, chatted with Yorgen Fenech, but tells inquiry it was ‘in good faith’

Friday, 16 October 2020, 13:34 Last update: about 7 days ago

Edward Zammit Lewis admitted to the public inquiry investigating Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death that he dined, chatted and even went on a boat trip with Yorgen Fenech but said that this was done “in good faith.”

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

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Zammit Lewis told inquiry board on Friday that he felt incredulous when it emerged that Fenech was involved in the murder of the journalist.

“I had always communicated with him [Yorgen Fenech] in good faith… I never discussed the case with him,” he told the inquiry.

Zammit Lewis said he had eaten out with Fenech, but not often. “These took place in public places in good faith. If I had any reservations I wouldn't have gone,” he added.

He said that in these meetings he would not ask about the Panama Papers and 17 Black, despite the issues bothering him.

Fenech was revealed to be the owner of a secret Dubai-based company called 17 Black in November 2018, with 17 Black having been listed as one of the target clients of the Panama companies opened by former minister Konrad Mizzi and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Fenech was arrested and charged with masterminding the murder of Caruana Galizia in November 2019.

It was reported some weeks ago that Zammit Lewis had retained contact with Fenech even after his involvement with 17 Black had been revealed, but asked about this, Zammit Lewis said that at no time did he feel that he was being prejudiced in his parliamentary work.

“I was a lawyer and was working as a lawyer again. Whenever I felt that someone could prejudice my work, I cut off contact. I receive 100s of WhatsApp messages every day starting at 6am or 7am,” Zammit Lewis said.

Asked by lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia whether the messages with Fenech were simply tourism related or of a friendly nature, he replied: “There were some messages that were friendship-related.”

Zammit Lewis told the inquiry board that he entered politics to do good and felt “betrayed” by those who had acted differently.

“I believe that since 2013 good things had been done, we weren't perfect and made mistakes,” he said, adding that the fact that the public inquiry had to be held, cast an ugly shadow over the country.

“When I saw Joseph Muscat leave that way, I felt that he shouldn't have had to leave like he did,” Zammit Lewis said.

Asked by lawyer Jason Azzopardi whether the friendship with Yorgen Fenech ended with his arrest, Zammit Lewis said he had no precise date but believed “it was well before that”.

On his friendship with Muscat, the Justice Minister said that this began when they were admitted to St Aloysius College.

Zammit Lewis said he got to know Keith Schembri through Joseph Muscat. “Although he never stood for election, Schembri started to organise the party. He entered the party with Joseph Muscat,” Zammit Lewis told the inquiry.

He said Schembri was responsible for the coordination of government work and this led to him being a very influential person in government.

Asked whether Schembri would interfere in his decisions as minister, Zammit Lewis said the former chief of staff would give direction. “I can't say he would interfere… The PM was not always available and I spoke to him very often,” he testified.

Electrogas shareholder Paul Apap Bologna is due to testify again next Monday, while Mark and Joe Gasan will testify on Wednesday.

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

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