The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi plead not guilty to hospitals charges, but €30m freezing order stands

Tuesday, 28 May 2024, 07:44 Last update: about 16 days ago

Court reporting by Albert Galea, reporting from outside the law courts by Semira Abbas Shalan and Sabrina Zammit

Former public officials appeared in court today facing criminal charges over a hospitals deal that has rocked the country.

It was a marathon sitting, that lasted more than nine hours.

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, former Minister Konrad Mizzi as well as others who played a role in the concession were charged before Magistrate Rachel Montebello for the first time as the case kicks off. Muscat and others are charged with fraud, money laundering and making fraudulent gains, among other things.

Outside, followers of Joseph Muscat gathered in droves, as a demonstration in support of the former Prime Minister was called by his closest allies. As time passed, and the case dragged on, the numbers dwindled substantially.

Tomorrow others charged over the deal will also have their first sitting, including Former Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Central Bank Governor Edward Scicluna.

At the end of April, the magisterial inquiry that delved into the hospitals deal concluded, and the criminal charges were filed soon after. Prime Minister Robert Abela was criticised for his reaction to the news, where he brought into question the timing of the inquiry’s conclusion, and also raised questions related to the inquiry process. This resulted in him being criticised for his ‘attacks on the judiciary’.

Three protests took place, one organised by student organisations, one by the Nationalist Party, and one by a number of organisations.

The court cases will delve into the inner workings of one of the most controversial deals in Maltese history that was deemed fraudulent by the courts, following the damning magisterial inquiry.

20.37: That's all for today. Thank you for being with us.

20.35: The court has adjourned the case to 13 June at 11am, with a second hearing on 19 June at 11am.

20.29: The court said the accused are prohibited from making declarations that could prejudice the case.

The court is not banning the accused from travelling, but wants all of them present at each and every sitting.

The court has therefore imposed a personal guarantee of €25,000.

The court also prohibits the parties and their lawyers from passing on any parts of the case records to third parties. 

All defence lawyers register their objection to all experts nominated in the magisterial inquiry. 

20.20: Magistrate Montebello has re-entered the courtroom.

20.00: We're still waiting. In the meantime, few people have remained outside the law courts. 

19.36: Sitting has been adjourned for a few minutes, following which the magistrate is set to give her decree on the request made by the prosecution.

19.28: Prosecutor Francesco Refalo said that by “public statements” he meant “public statements about this case”. As to the allegation about the prosecution being led by obscure third parties, Refalo said the prosecution is working without any interference, in accordance with the Constitution. “It is a serious allegation that must be rebutted.” He said he did not intend to see the media not reporting about the case.

19.25: Defence lawyers continue to argue against the proscution's request. All the accused are here today, why should things change.

19:15: Debono, it turned out, wanted to comment on Repubblika’s request to be admitted as an injured party to this case, and lambasted the Attorney General not having a position on this request.

Filletti meanwhile says that the AG’s request is “obscene and vexatious” with regards to Hillman given that he lives abroad. “He has a flight booked in a couple of days’ time, not to go partying, but to go home to his wife and children. Can the Attorney General explain why now it is suddenly feeling the need to restrict his movements?,” Filletti said.

The lawyers are still taking it in turns to object to the AG's request.

18:59: Franco Debono is next to stand to object. He promises he will only take a minute.  Few in the courtroom believe him. 

18:56: All the defence lawyers are stating their disapproval, albeit in slightly different ways, with the request.

18:50: Galea is now citing Jason Azzopardi’s post from earlier alleging that Muscat was set to fly to Turkey, and he now implies that the prosecution is being influenced by Azzopardi.  Galea says that his client isn’t going abroad “today.”

It seems the whole merry-go-round of lawyers will also be saying their piece on this request.  De Marco says that the Attorney General has made some “sweeping statements” and says that the request is “unjust.” 

18:43: Refalo is asked to specify to who he is referring, and he obliges, referring to a number of the accused, including Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, and Chris Spiteri, who he said made public statements on social media or through press conferences.

Muscat’s lawyer is disputing this, and claiming that the Attorney General is breaching his client’s right to freedom of expression.

18:37: The prosecution now makes a request for a condition that all of the accused should request permission from the courts in order to go abroad, and that “after seeing certain comments about this case which do no good for the administration of justice in public, but which are only good enough for some Netflix television series…” - one of the defence lawyers tries to interrupt and is promptly rebuked by the magistrate.

The prosecution is requesting that “so as to avoid this case becoming a trial by the media” while the case is ongoing, the accused are stopped from speaking publicly while the case is ongoing and until it is concluded.

This is in the same way that the prosecution does not comment on ongoing cases, Refalo says.

18:32: Grima is now pushing on the foreign experts.  He suggests one of the experts put his feet on his client’s chair during a search and was reprimanded by the client.  Magistrate Montebello says the question is irrelevant.

Scerri’s testimony ends there.

18:21: More cross-examinations are focused on the role of these experts – one of whom has been identified as ‘Sam’, an Irishman – during various searches. 

18:15: Edward Gatt is asking whether Scerri had met a particular expert at the Attorney General’s office prior to this investigation.  With the magistrate’s intervention, this is specified to ask whether this expert ever worked on any other case, as Gatt says that the objectivity of this expert will be challenged later on.

Scerri says he had worked on other magisterial inquiries in the past.

Scerri is the last witness of the day – this sitting has now been going for seven hours and people are starting to get antsy.  Even Michelle Muscat in the balcony swapped places to sit behind journalists.  A court attendant promptly asked her to return to where she had previously been.

18:07: Scerri is also the person who carried out the search at Joseph Muscat’s house.  He only got to know about this a couple of days prior, and had told his superiors Superintendent James Grech and Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo.

He says that these tasks where tabulated on an excel sheet to be sent to his superior.

Answering further questions about the search, Scerri said that the search on Muscat’s house was actually meant to be done the day before, but the inspector and his team had opted to carry out two other searches on that day instead.

The search had been postponed as well, he said, because it appeared that there had been a leak about it in the media.

Galea – Muscat’s lawyer – asks whether the police had investigated where this leak came from or whether the magistrate had instructed this to be investigated.  Scerri says this wouldn’t have been up to him but up to his superiors, who would have discussed it between themselves.

Refalo chimes in and wonders what this line of questioning is in aid of.  Galea is trying to push on whether the inquiring magistrate had asked Scerri about the leak. Montebello now questions the reason for this question.

Galea says it is important for him even to know this even in terms of the validity of the inquiry.

Scerri, however, does not remember.

18:03: Replying to a question from lawyer Shazoo Ghaznavi, Scerri said that he would not be told of the relevance of the documents that he was told to seize.  The inquiring magistrate would discuss what evidence was required with the group of foreign experts, who would then instruct the police accordingly.

Facing cross examination from Muscat’s lawyer, Scerri says that he had not come across Joseph Muscat’s name while carrying out keyword searches on documents.

Muscat’s lawyer continues by asking what happens when letters or documents are sent in relating to the case, and why these went to the inquiring magistrate.  The witness was not aware of the reason.

17:46: Scerri is cross-examined by Spiteri’s lawyer Jason Grima.  Scerri was present for two occasions when the auditor testified, and he said that he had found full cooperation in all of the searches that he had done while he was assisting the inquiry.

He says that everybody called to testify before the magistrate was given the right to a lawyer and that he believes that Spiteri was informed about his right not to reply to questions which could incriminate him.  All interviews, he said, were recorded too.

Police involvement, however, he said was minimal and such things were in the hands of the inquiring magistrate. 

17:34: Anthony Scerri, who was a police inspector between October 2020 and August 2022, is next on the stand.

He says that he succeeded Stivala in assisting the inquiring magistrate in 2021 and recalls that he had been part of a search in the offices of Nexia BT almost immediately upon becoming part of the case, specifically in a garage-like archive in Qrendi.

Scerri says that he was part of a search in Xghajra at the residence of Pierre Sladden, where a number of electronic devices and documents were seized. He details other searches that he was a part of, including at Malta Enterprise where some files were seized.

17:26: He now faces cross-examination from Arthur Azzopardi, who is representing Technoline. 

Stivala says that he had spoken to Vassallo not under interrogation but to get an idea of the extent of Technoline’s operations.  He is asked whether he had taken some of Vassallo’s diaries, and whether Vassallo had objected to this.

Stivala says that some diaries had been taken, and Vassallo had not objected.  On whether he had asked Vassallo to testify before the inquiring magistrate, Stivala said that he had simply exhibited what he had in the inquiry.

De Marco, representing Gatt and Meli, asks whether Stivala has a list of what was taken from Meli’s house. He doesn’t have such a list. He recalls that a black file had been taken, but doesn’t remember much else.  On whether anything was taken from Gatt’s house, Stivala does not remember.

Neither does he remember whether he checked with the Malta Business Registry who the officials behind Technoline and Steward were.

He said that he had instructions not to do any parallel investigations, but to simply assist the inquiring magistrate.

Stivala’s testimony ends there.

17:17: Superintendent Rennie Stivala from the economic crimes unit is next to take the stand. 

He testifies how he was passed a file back in 2019 on the accusations relating to the hospitals and had assisted the inquiring magistrate Gabriella Vella.

A year later – in October 2020 – the first searches, in six different places, took place on the same day.  These were at Technoline’s offices, Ivan Vassallo’s house, Mario Gatt’s house, and at the house of the person who was secretary of Technoline at the time, David Meli.

He says he was at Technoline together with another officer and a court expert, before they were joined by another court expert.  Some devices were seized on that day, he says.

Stivala says that over 100 witnesses had been heard as part of the inquiry.

17:07: We will now hear the testimony of Joseph Caruana from the Tax Commissioner’s office.  He presents a letter from the Tax Commissioner’s office to the police pertaining to auditor Chris Spiteri.

Under cross examination, he says that he had sent a letter to the police giving them dispensation to investigate and charge the accused over breaches relating to Malta’s tax laws.

The tax department did not carry out its own investigations, but several officials did present documents to the inquiry, he says.

His testimony ends there.

17:00: Decreeing, Montebello said that having heard all the submissions and having heard that the prosecution has reasonable grounds to request the freezing orders in question, it was granting the request for those freezing orders.

A freezing order of €30 million is issued for each of Muscat, Mizzi, Schembri, Spiteri, Vella, Hillman, and Sladden, while a €32 million freezing order is issued for Meli and a €20 million freezing order issued for Tonna and Cini.

Vassallo has €11 million frozen, Bondin has €12 million frozen, Gatt has €7 million frozen, and Conger Thompson has €1 million frozen.

Sciaccia Grill, Nexia BT, Kasco Engineering, and FSV Limited all have had €20 million frozen, MTrace has had €12 million frozen, Gateway Solutions and Technoline both have €5 million frozen, Eurybates have €2 million frozen and Taomac has €62,500 frozen.

16:55: Lawyer Edward Gatt now makes submissions. He says that he understands the magistrate’s decree and her interpretation on the matter, but referred to the magisterial inquiry wherein when the forensic experts detailed ‘funds going to key players’, the words “not applicable” were used when it came to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

16:47: The magistrate rejects Debono’s request, referring to her previous decree less than an hour prior and reiterating that the court could not pronounce itself on the merits or otherwise of evidence.

The magistrate refused De Marco’s request as well, saying that when it decides upon the issuing of a freezing order then it must order that the property in question is confiscated without any legal distinction between whether it is in the accused’s possession personally or vicariously.

16:38: The prosecution notes that Debono’s request was already dealt with by the magistrate’s decree just thirty minutes prior, and would be relying on that decree.

On De Marco’s request, Refalo notes that there is no obligation to make a distinction between a person and a company.  He said that the prosecution had issued the freezing orders as it deems fit, and therefore objected to her request.

De Marco argued that in the case of her client – David Meli – only he was facing a freezing order, while the company associated to Steward Health Care were not.

Lawyer Charles Mercieca, also representing Meli, now rises to specify this as well: Meli is being accused of crimes related to something which Steward had done, as a representative of Steward – but Steward itself has not been charged.

16:31: Debono meanwhile says that he bows his head to the court’s decision, but again asks that the prosecution indicates specifically a piece of evidence which the freezing order can refer to. 

Montebello tries to say that this has been decided upon already, but Debono says that he was filing a new request if need be. He verbalised that he is requesting the prosecution to “clearly and specifically” indicate the basis on which it is requesting its freezing order of €20 million, and if those reasons are emerging from the inquiry even out of respect to the courts and to justice then the pages from where the proof emerges.

It’s Gianella De Marco’s turn now – Montebello warns her not to repeat what has been said already.

She refers to a separate judgement from the Progress Press case handed down by Judge Edwina Grima, where she had rejected a freezing order against an individual because the accusations in question that day pertained to a company rather than to the individual.

She would like the same distinction to be made in this case. 

16:21: He continued that this is a matter of admissibility. He argues that the proof being presented – the 78 boxes sitting before us in the courtroom – is inadmissible.

The evidence in the boxes – the acts of the magisterial inquiry – are designed for the Attorney General to decide whether to make a case out of it or not, and not to be used as evidence “lock, stock and barrel” in court, he said.  He continued that he had concerns on the chain of custody of this evidence.

16:18: Filletti is now making a submission, noting that the experts in the magisterial inquiry – who, he said, had “usurped” the magistrate – had not found any proof of money laundering when it came to his client Adrian Hillman.

They had simply said that because Hillman had contacts with people who they believed were of dubious character then there was the possibility that he was exposed to transactions which were suspicious and which in their entirety were worth €20 million.

It is up to the Attorney General to decide whether to proceed with the charges, and the State, he says, abdicated on its responsibility because it failed to bring Hillman in for questioning to investigate the matter further.

In actual fact, he said, the inquiry does not include a single sentence which says that Hillman bought anything using proceeds of crime.

16:11: Reading out her decree, Magistrate Montebello says that the law does not require the amounts to be determined in order for a freezing order to be issued, and were it to do so then the court would be expressing itself on the merits of the case.

“The courts must only see whether there are reasonable grounds and not reach some particular level of proof,” Montebello said.

She said that this reasonable grounds had been pointed out in the magisterial inquiry, as indicated by the prosecution, and irrespective of whether the magistrate’s conclusions constitute proof or not it does qualify as reasonable grounds.

Magistrate Montebello therefore rejected the defence’s request for the prosecution to substantiate its request for the freezing orders.

16:01: Court is back in session.

15.05: The crowds that had gathered in the morning are no longer outside the law courts. Very few of them remain, many of them wearing red. The harsh May sun is taking its toll too as people look for places in the shade.

14:53: The lawyers have continued to argue for the Attorney General to substantiate their requests for freezing orders.

Filletti meanwhile has made another request for the witnesses who are set to testify – the prosecuting police officers – to be kept away from the Attorney General’s lawyers.  The prosecution objected to this on the basis that they are part of the prosecuting team.

The sitting has now been suspended for the Magistrate to decide on the respective requests.

14:39: Meanwhile, if Jason Azzopardi is to be believed, Joseph Muscat must be hoping that today’s sitting comes to an end soon.  Azzopardi claims that the former Prime Minister is catching a plane to Istanbul at 7:15pm and will be going through the Ministerial Lounge to do so.

“I think he bought the ticket with Kwiksave coupons,” Azzopardi quipped on social media.

 

14:34: Tonna Lowell argues that the pages cited by the prosecutor are not proof which cater to the freezing orders. He says that the figures cited are the amounts allegedly laundered and not the proceeds of crime.

“Forget the part of the proces verbal which isn’t evidence… where is the proof of the amounts being mentioned?” Tonna Lowell says.

Debono says that the prosecution is being “evasive” and says that even their behaviour to the matter is not adequate for this courtroom.

He says that one of the prosecution members should assume responsibility and testify under oath and indicate specifically where the evidence is to back up each freezing order.  It is a “textbook case of inequality of arms,” he says.

“He’s being evasive… we weren’t born yesterday,” Debono continues as he continues his argument.

14:23: Montebello proceeds and states that the first piece of evidence to be heard must pertain to the freezing orders. 

Refalo simply replies “this is what it’s based on” and points to the 78 boxes in the middle of the courtroom.  The suggestion elicits some laughs from the defence lawyers.

Galea is again asking one of the prosecuting team to specifically point out – under oath – where the €30 million in transactions for Muscat are. 

Refalo replies that if one looks at the 1,200 pages that the lawyers have been given access, in the last 100 pages there are the conclusions and crimes that their clients are charged with and there are the amounts that the magistrate reached based on the reports.

“From page 1109 onwards, there is a list of the crimes their clients are accused of. We have the good fortune of having had an inquiring magistrate who took the initiative to do this,” Refalo says.

14:20: Lawyer Jason Grima now speaks on behalf of his client, the auditor Chris Spiteri, who he says was not warned or given any access to a lawyer when he testified four times during the inquiry - even being told by the inquiring magistrate that he didn't need one, and argues that the proces verbal was therefore not regular and should not constitute as evidence against him.

Grima says that Spiteri was surprised to have his offices raided and documents and devices seized a few days later.

There is no request adjoined to that, but Grima said he was sharing the remark as a state of fact and “pre-advice” possibly for further action.

14:12: Court registrar Franklin Calleja is now summoned to testify.

He presents the proces verbal of the magisterial inquiry and the 78 boxes of evidence which sit in the court room together with a number of devices.

He is now cross-examined by Filletti who peppers him with questions about transactions relating to Adrian Hillman – questions which he says he cannot answer because he was not involved in the inquiry.

Callejla testifies that the inquiry was sent to the Attorney General’s office on April 25 and came back to the court from the Attorney General on 24 May.

As this is going on, there is suddenly more chanting heard from outside.  “Viva Joseph, Viva Joseph,” the crowd chants.

14:04: Decreeing, Montebello says that the court should hear the proof which the prosecution is to present and reserves the right to decide on the freezing order after hearing this proof.

This effectively means that the court will hear the evidence to back up the requests for the freezing orders before deciding whether to issue them or not.

13:57: Debono, representing Sciacca Grill, continues in much the same vein and wants the prosecution to point out specifically where the evidence is to substantiate the freezing orders. “I’m not impressed by boxes,” he says.

13:55: Refalo says that the amounts result from the 1,200 page or so proces verbal from the magisterial inquiry, and there are also clear indications from the inquiring magistrate on the amount of fraud and money laundering.

Montebello asks whether the proof is in the inquiry.  Refalo replies in the affirmative, to many murmurs from the defence lawyers.

Muscat’s lawyer Vincent Galea now rises to ask where exactly this proof is.  When the magistrate replies that the prosecution has said it is in the inquiry, there are even more murmurs, some of outrage even, from the defence lawyers – prompting a reprimand from Montebello.

Galea continues that he wants the prosecution to point out specifically – by page and line – where the amounts referred to are. 

13:52: Tonna Lowell and De Marco are also arguing along the same lines on behalf of their respective clients, with the latter citing from the Proceeds of Crime Act and saying that this law says that there must be a valid reason for a freezing order.

She also cites legal provisions that the prosecution must indicate proof that shows that the person being subject to the freezing order had the money in question passing through their accounts or in their accounts.

Joseph Muscat’s lawyer Vincent Galea now speaks and says that he supports the arguments made by other defence lawyers. 

Magistrate Montebello says that the court either way has to issue a temporary order at the very least. 

13:41: Brian Bondin’s lawyer Arthur Azzopardi now chimes in.  He says that his client had €12 million frozen but there is no indication as to where that figure came from. 

There isn’t even a single line in the inquiry where Jonathan Vella received money, his lawyer Jason Grima now argues, saying that the Attorney General should substantiate the freezing order.  Vella has had €30 million frozen as well.

Debono is now speaking again, noting that he was startled at how quickly the Attorney General’s office had apparently gone through all of the evidence, and saying that he wants the prosecution to explain under oath how they had reached the figures they reached.

He says that the prosecution should have the proof in hand, although he himself is “certain” that the prosecution doesn’t, to justify the order.

13:34: Lawyer Edward Gatt is now arguing the matter further, questioning whether the court is expecting the defence to have immediate answers for the evidence that is to be presented, saying that he had not seen this evidence at all as no disclosure has been given.

Montebello says that there have been clear judgements from the courts on what disclosure can be given, and she would not be opening that chapter again, but she verbalises that the defence should be given time to analyse the documents once tabled.

Filletti now speaks and says that even the magistrate had concluded that “not one euro” was attributed to his client Adrian Hillman.

He wants the Attorney General to substantiate how the office reached the decision to freeze €30 million euro for his client, “euro by euro” and lambasted this “stratospheric” number.  He says that the prosecution must present evidence specifically related to this freezing order in order to justify it.  

13:26: Franco Debono is once again bringing up the freezing order amounts, saying that the prosecution should at the very least substantiate how these figures were reached.

Refalo assures that this will become apparent when the evidence – and he points to the stack of boxes in front of him – will be presented.

Debono retorts that his client hadn’t been given any disclosure or opportunity to testify before the police, and again requests that before the court proceeds to hearing the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses it should consider the request for cross-examination on the freezing order.

The prosecution objects and says that things should be heard chronologically, saying that the evidence which is to be presented will substantiate the figures in question.

Debono tries to get another word in edgeways and is promptly warned by Magistrate Montebello to not interrupt.

13:24: The companies have also all pleaded not guilty.

13:17:  All of the other accused have now made their pleas, and have all – perhaps unsurprisingly – plead not guilty.

These are IT manager Clarence Conger Thompson, auditors Christopher Spiteri and Jonathan Vella, lawyer David Meli, medical equipment supplier Ivan Vassallo and his business partner Mario Gatt.

Brian Bondin, who is also representing MTrace, says he is a “general manager”, while Adrian Hillman says that his profession is a “University lecturer.”  Brian Tonna says he is a retired auditor, and Karl Cini says he is an accountant.

13:06: Muscat pleads “absolutely not guilty” to the charges against him.

Magistrate Montebello is seeking the declarations from all of the accused.

Muscat is first. He lists his profession as a self-employed economic and management advisor, and when asked about his pleas he replies: “absolutely not guilty.”

Konrad Mizzi says he is a "management consultant" and also pleads not guilty, and Keith Schembri, who says he is a “business owner,” does the same.

13:04: Refalo has finished reading out the charge sheet.  He sits down and takes what is presumably a much needed glass of water.

One of Joseph Muscat's defence lawyers - Vincent Galea - sitting on the back bench wants to cross-examine the prosecutor.  Magistrate Montebello promptly tells him “No” and verbalises that any cross-examinations take place after the prosecution witnesses testify and not after the reading of the charges.

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, appearing for Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, and Nexia BT, and Gianella De Marco appearing for David Meli make the same request.  Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Franco Debono have also made the same request on behalf of their own clients.

The bone of contention appears to be the quantities outlined in the freezing orders.

12:56:  This is a legal case of scale which the country has rarely – if ever – seen before.  That means that it has generated some degree of discussion on social media, particularly within the context of this morning’s events.

Our journalist Kyle Patrick Camilleri has compiled some reactions, which you can read here.

12:52:  Refalo is now reading out the freezing orders which the Attorney General’s office requested against the accused.  He is around two pages from the end of what is an unprecedentedly long charge sheet.

12:35: The prosecution is being led by Francesco Refalo – who is reading out the charge sheet right now – and is being assisted by fellow Attorney General lawyers Rebekah Spiteri and Shelby Aquilina.

It is pertinent to note that Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is not present in the courtroom.

She was the subject of a judicial protest filed yesterday by Permanent Secretary Ronald Mizzi and former Permanent Secretaries Alfred Camilleri and Joseph Rapa – who will all face the courts tomorrow in connection with this case.

They claimed that Buttigieg had attended a number of formal meetings about the hospitals deal when she was in her previous role of State Advocate, and had provided legal advice and guidance to the same permanent secretaries whom she was now accusing of fraud.

Buttigieg told Times of Malta however that she had never attended “any government task force meeting having responsibility to decide the way forward on such concession."

She assured that she had no conflict of interest, and noted that the Attorney General either way does not have any judicial function so the “speculative information” should be disregarded.

12:29: Radio propagandist Manuel Cuschieri – who had encouraged people to attend this morning’s demonstration outside the law courts – has now left Valletta.  He refused to answer questions from journalists, but was happy to lap up the approval from the Labour supporters still present outside.

Inside court, Refalo continues to read out the charge sheet.

12:21: The crowd outside meanwhile seems to have dispersed somewhat, with many seeking shade from the burning sunlight.

The memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia appears to be untouched, even though Muscat’s followers have largely gathered over there.

12:17: If you’re wondering what is happening, Refalo still has 14 pages left to read.

Most of the lawyers in the courtroom are scrolling through their phones or tablets as this goes on. 

12:10: European Parliament President and PN MEP Roberta Metsola  meanwhile has given her two cents about the scenes outside the law courts this morning, saying that these scene “are not what Malta should be about.”

“Today is a reminder of just how hard we all need to work to push our country forward. Of how badly the Prime Minister has lost control,” she wrote.

“We need real leadership. We need this constant Government-fuelled tribalism to stop. Our politics needs to go beyond the Prime Minister's hyper-partisanship. We need justice to work without political pressure,” she added.

“Today is a reminder of just how important the election on 8 June is. If you're still wondering about the value of your vote, look at Valletta today.  This country deserves better - and that is in your hands. Malta and Gozo are worth standing up for.”

 

12:01: Prosecutor Francesco Refalo now begins to read the charge sheet out in court.  We could be here a while: the charge sheet is 25 pages long.

A reminder that Muscat is facing charges of money laundering, accepting bribes and corruption.  Mizzi is facing the same charges.  Schembri is facing money laundering charges and also charges relating to the solicitation of bribes and abuse of office.

You can read about the charges in full here.

As this goes on, a short moment of cheers and applause can be heard from outside the law courts.  It seems that while much of the crowd has dispersed, some are still present and making their voices heard. 

11:55: There is an air of quiet in the courtroom as this goes on.

Some defence lawyers – all of them stacked three tables deep in the courtroom – are whispering between themselves, others watch on.

The accused are not visible to journalists, who are sat on the balcony of the court room.  Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle is silently scrolling through her phone, flanked by Jason Micallef doing the same thing.

The atmosphere is interrupted as someone’s phone goes off for the briefest of moments.  Magistrate Montebello reminds people to turn their phones off, and the document sorting continues.

11:50: The prosecution also presents the freezing orders against the nine companies which are charged as part of this case.

11:48: Lawyer Stefano Filletti tells the court that Adrian Hillman now resides in the UK and has travelled to Malta to attend this case, and is renouncing his right of speciality, choosing to contest the charges in Malta.

The prosecution is tabling documents associated with each of the accused: their birth certificates (or residence permit in Conger-Thompson’s case), criminal records, and asset freezing orders against them.

11:40: Magistrate Montebello finishes her roll call of the accused today.  14 people are accused today, together with nine companies.

These are Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri, Clarence John Conger-Thompson, Christopher Spiteri, Jonathan Vella, David-Joseph Meli, Ivan Vassallo, Mario Victor Gatt, Brian Bondin, Adrian Hillman, Pierre Sladden, Brian Tonna, and Karl Cini.

The companies are Sciacca Grill Ltd, Kasco Engineering Company Ltd, FSV Ltd, MTrace p.l.c., Gateway Solutions Ltd, Technoline Ltd, Eurybates Ltd, Taomac Ltd, and Nexia BT Ltd.

Montebello’s first task is to appoint an interpreter for Conger-Thompson, who does not understand Maltese. 

She also warns that she would not be tolerating any comments one way or the other on the proceedings of the case while it is in session.

11:36: Magistrate Rachel Montebello has entered the court room.  The case can now begin.

Joseph Muscat is being assisted by a team of six lawyers.  Konrad Mizzi has a team of three lawyers, as does Keith Schembri.

11:30: Journalists have now been allowed inside court room 14 – the biggest in Malta’s law courts – as has the veritable army of lawyers present for this case.

Standing out in the middle of the courtroom is a huge stack – piled as wide as the magistrate’s bench and practically as high – of brown cardboard boxes, which presumably are the boxes filled with the evidence discerned from the magisterial inquiry.

In a sitting in a separate case, it had been said that there were 78 boxes of evidence as part of the inquiry.  That tallies with what we can see in front of us.

11.09am: The court sitting is due to start at 11.30am.

 

11.02am The crowds are chanting "Go Kastilja ma tidhlux" (you will not enter Castille).

11.01am: The court room has not opened yet. Some of the accused, along with their lawyers, are waiting outside with the media.

11.01am: Muscat did not speak to the media. But on the steps of the law courts, he turned around to acknowlegde the crowd, waving to them.

11am: Joseph Muscat arrives, accompanied by his wife Michelle, wearing all white. It is the climax that the crowd has been waiting for. The chants of "Joseph, Joseph" reverberate as the couple makes its way through the pushing crowd, eager to be as close as possible to the two of them. The Muscats finally make it through and enter the law court muilding. Muscat is the first Maltese Prime Minister to face criminal charges.

10.54am: In comments to the media before entering the law courts building, Konrad Mizzi says he has not committed any crime and is ready to defend his name in the court case.

10.48am: Former Minister Konrad Mizzi, he of Panama Papers fame, has arrived too. He is among those accused.

10.37am The crowd is still waiting for Muscat to arrive.

10.25am: Crowds have shifted to St Lucia Street, possibly awaiting the arrival of Joseph Muscat, who normally makes his way to court from Old Bakery Street.

10.10am: Keith Schembri, former OPM chief of staff, arrives in court. He is applauded and patted on the back as he walks among the crowd. He gave no comments.

10.05am: Manuel Cuschieri, ally to Joseph Muscat and one of the people who have urged today's demonstration, does not want to comment when approached by The Malta Independent.

9.50am: Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, two of the men accused along with Muscat, have entered the court building.

9.48am: There is some intermittant chanting by the crowd, most of them pensioners.

9.35am: Crowd has quietend down, but some are commetning quite loudly enough. "They want war, we want peace," one is heard saying. Another: "We are united".

9.23am: Crowds are chanting "Viva l-Labour".

9.21am: The first Labour Party flag has appeared.

9.20am: There is a heavy police presence in Great Siege Square, just outside the law courts. But no barriers have been set up, allowing for free movement. As if on cue, a section of the crowd is chanting "Joseph".

9.15am: People have started to gather outside the lawcourts. In the past weeks Joseph Muscat supporters have been urged to be in Valletta this morning to show their solidarity with the former Labour leader.

8.32am: The police have officially announced that a group of persons will be arraigned before Magistrate Rachel Montebello in connection with the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal. The sitting is set to start at 11.30am.

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