Richard Cachia Caruana (right) has been cleared of accusations of collusion made by MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.
Constantly updated | Miriam Dalli and Nestor Laiviera reporting from PN headquarters, Pietà. All photos Ray Attard.
Nationalist MPs have emerged from the PN's headquarters, as the executive committee's meeting drew to an end with a vote that cleared Richard Cachia Caruana of the accusations made by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.
The vote was taken by a show of hands.
On exiting the building, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando released no comment to the press. "I have said enough for this evening."
Richard Cachia Caruana, present for the meeting, was reported not to have rebutted any of Pullicino Orlando's accusations after the MP made a 90-minute presentation.
EU Commissioner John Dalli, a former party leadership rival to Lawrence Gonzi, was said to have made an "impassioned 25-minute speech" on the state of the Nationalist Party, in his testimony this evening to the PN's executive committee.
As the party faced one of its darkest hours, with Pullicino Orlando seeking the expulsion of chief party strategist Richard Cachia Caruana over accusations of "collusion" with former Labour ministers, sources told MaltaToday that the speech Dalli gave via teleconference was an "earnest dissection of the state of the PN".
His speech lasted for some 25 minutes with no interruptions, although little is known whether his testimony - brought in as witness by Pullicino Orlando - backed the MP's accusations against Cachia Caruana.
At the start of the meeting at 5:30pm, Pullicino Orlando told reporters at the PN headquarters in Pietà that he was "displeased" at the way his case has been prejudiced by Lawrence Gonzi's statement last Sunday when he described the proceedings that are to take place tonight suggested a "frame-up".
"I am not pleased at the suggestion by PN executive committee president Marthese Portelli that I am acting in bad faith," Pullicino Orlando added upon entering the PN headquarters.
Sources have told MaltaToday that Pullicino Orlando suddenly interrupted the meeting around 90 minutes into his presentation when he claimed that MP Franco Debono was taking pictures using his mobile phone. The bizarre interruption was followed by Paula Mifsud Bonnici, the president of the PN's administrative council, checking Debono's mobile phone.
Sources also said that at the beginning of the meeting, Debono indirectly referred to the opportunity given to Cachia Caruana to defend himself and insisted that he should be given the same opportunity to rebut the condemnation in his regard.
He went on to say that the principles of natural justice should always be respected.
In a comment released by former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami, the party grandee said he had "absolute" trust in his once personal assistant, Richard Cachia Caruana. His presence at Pietà is a show of support for Cachia Caruana, which sets the tone for tonight's committee meeting. The prime minister's chief of communications Gordon Pisani, a witness convened by Pullicino Orlando in his expulsion case against Cachia Caruana, was seen entering the PN headquarters through a side door.
Pullicino Orlando is accusing Cachia Caruana, who has had to resign from permanent representative to the EU when the MP supported an Opposition motion in June, of "collusion" with Labour ministers between 1996 and 1998.
Speaking on One TV interview earlier in the morning, Pullicino Orlando said he had no regret in voting against Cachia Caruana, whom he has accused of bypassing the House of Representatives in a bid to reactivate Malta's participation in Nato's Partnership for Peace.
Pullicino Orlando claimed Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi prejudiced his case against Cachia Caruana when he said on Sunday that he saw the ingredients of a frame-up.
The MP has been banned from contesting on the party ticket for 2013, even though he had already announced his intention not to run in the next general elections.
Pullicino Orlando has claimed all manner of obstructions were being put up against him and that he will not countenance a stage-managed fait accompli. "If matters are not handled correctly this evening, if there will be some farce, I will seriously reconsider my position within the party," Pullicino Orlando said.
Pullicino Orlando is accusing Cachia Caruana of having 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."
The MP has presented five witnesses to make his case: two Labour MPs said they will not attend, although they have made their accusations public already; the Prime Minister's chief of communications Gordon Pisani has denied Pullicino Orlando's allegations, while former Commissioner of Police George Grech has denied allegations of a botched police investigation made by Labour whip Joe Mizzi.
While European Commissioner John Dalli said he was not available for the PN executive committee hearing because the invitation by president Marthese Portelli was too short-notice, he has accepted to testify on the accusations via teleconference.