Updated at 11:38am with statement by Karmenu Vella
Labour MP Karmenu Vella has presented a sworn affidavit in which he claims former permanent representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana had asked to meet him back in 1997 over decisions taken by Air Malta when he was a board member.
In his affidavit, Vella says that after being appointed minister for tourism, Cachia Caruana had specifically asked to meet him to discuss the decisions concerning the setting-up of the Azzurra Air subsidiary and the acquisition of a fleet of RJ-70s.
"I had never met him before and the meeting was a short one because I felt I had no need to hear anything more from him," Vella says in his affidavit.
"Cachia Caruana told me that although he was a member of the board of Air Malta, he had not agreed with the decisions to acquire the RJ70s and set up Azzurr Air, and that this was some 'dream' of other board members.
"I instantly understood he wanted to disassociate himself from these decisions and shift the burden of the responsibility of these wrong decisions on his other colleagues, so that he could curry favour with me."
Vella says in his affidavit that he had asked Cachia Caruana whether he had registered his disagreement with a vote or a minority report. "He said no. I therefore reminded him that every board member had the collective responsibility of the board's decisions. At that point I felt Cachia Caruana had tried to use me to attack his colleagues. I was not ready to play his game and I felt I had to stop the discussion there."
Malta's former permanent representative to the European Union has denied claims by Labour MP Karmenu Vella, in a conversation he is alleged to have had over controversial decisions taken during his time as a director on Air Malta.
Vella is one of the witnesses Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has named to testify on an accusation of collusion against Richard Cachia Caruana, the former ambassador and chief PN strategist, whom he wants expelled from the party.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Vella said that Cachia Caruana had told him - during the time he served as tourism minister under Alfred Sant's Labour government between 1996-1998 - that as director on the Air Malta board he had been against the ill-fated decisions to set up the subsidiary Azzurra Air and purchase a fleet of RJ-70s, but had not registered his disagreement with the board of directors.
Cachia Caruana issued a statement late yesterday evening denying the claims. Cachia Caruana, whose resignation was secured in a motion moved by the Opposition and supported by Pullicino Orlando, is being accused by the selfsame MP of "collusion" with Labour officials.
"I emphatically deny all these allegations that I had asked to meet Karmenu Vella or had made some contact with him," Cachia Caruana said.
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Cachia Caruana said all decisions inside Air Malta on the RJ-70s and the Azzurra subsidiary were unanimous decisions of the board, based on technical and financial advice by the airline's management. "Air Malta aimed at increasing its flights by over 35% and establish itself as a regional hub. After lengthy evaluations, the board accepted the management's recommendation to make this investment, unanimously," he said of the Azzurra misadventure.
Cachia Caruana said the purchase of the RJ-70 fleet, which was later sold off, was based on a 10-year trip-cost guarantee that all operational expenses would be covered.
"When technical problems started surfacing and the Air Malta directors informed management to exercise these guarantees, it was only at this stage that the management told us these guarantees had been in fact left out of the contract without the board having ever been informed of this."
Cachia Caruana said he personally, as well as the other directors, demanded an explanation for the grave omission that had changed the RJ-70 contract. "In March 1997, we appointed a board of inquiry to investigate the acquisition of the fleet," Cachia Caruana said. "As far as I know this inquiry was never published by the board of directors later appointed by Karmenu Vella, which he should now explain."
"No affidavit by Vella can spin a vile lie as this into gospel truth. The actions and decisions of the board are all documented and I have nothing to hide... Vella wants to cover up the actions of the Air Malta directors he appointed, 15 years later, by blaming somebody else for his own actions.
"Vella should declare who, from the Air Malta management, left out the contractual clauses for the trip-cost guarantees that would have secured the viability of the RJ-70, and why the board of directors never published the inquiry."
Karmenu Vella is claiming that in 1996, Cachia Caruana informed him of the decisions taken by the board of directors at Air Malta in regards to the purchase of a fleet of RJs and for the setting up of the subsidiary company Azzurra Air.
"He called to inform me that he, as a director, opposed the decisions of the board of directors. When I asked him, he admitted that he had not registered his disagreement."
Vella also noted that he met Pullicino Orlando at a social event a few days ago and discussed the meeting he had with Cachia Caruana. "It became immediately apparent that Richard Cachia Caruana not only disagreed with the decisions, but appeared to be trying to distance himself from them and shifting the responsibility to the other board members."
Vella added that when he saw that Cachia Caruana was trying to shrug off collective responsibility and shift the blame on his colleagues, "I felt I did not need to continue that conversation. I thanked him, and it ended there."
The MP said that he would declare all this in a sworn statement.
Although Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has presented his list of witnesses in a statement to the press, the Nationalist Party said on Thursday morning that executive committee president Marthese Portelli has not yet officially received the letter.
Another witness he has called in to testify to the PN executive is the Prime Minister's head of communications, Gordon Pisani, who said Pullicino Orlando's accuations "are totally unfounded".
"I declare I know of not facts or information that could be, either directly or indirectly, some basis for any of the accusations Pullicino Orlando made against Cachia Caruana. I will appear before the executive committee to confirm this."
Pullicino Orlando, who until recently was condemned for his vote in favour of the Opposition motion by the PN executive, is now asking the same committee to expel Cachia Caruana who has been inside the Nationalist's nerve centre since the early 1980s at the side of party grandee and former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami.
He claims Cachia Caruana colluded with high-ranking members of the Labour administration led by Alfred Sant between 1996 and 1998 "in an attempt at furthering his personal interests whilst putting his colleagues in the Nationalist administration led by Dr Eddie Fenech Adami between 1987 and 1996 in a bad light."
His witnesses are Labour MPs Karmenu Vella and Joe Mizzi, formerly also Labour ministers; former Nationalist minister now EU Commissioner for health John Dalli; the Prime Minister's head of communications Gordon Pisani, and Commissioner of Police John Rizzo.