Adds Karmenu Vella's statement at 7:46pm
Adds comments by Marthese Portelli at 8:02pm
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has presented his witnesses in the accusations of "collusion" he has made against Richard Cachia Caruana in a bid to seek the Nationalist Party's very own chief strategist.
The 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.
Pullicino Orlando has demanded that the PN expels the former permanent representative to the EU and erstwhile right-hand man to party grandee Eddie Fenech Adami - Richard Cachia Caruana - on claims that he "colluded" with members of the Labour administration of 1996-1998.
In his letter to PN executive committee president Marthese Portelli, 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."
Although Pullicino Orlando claimed that he has sent the list of witnesses to Portelli, president of the Nationalist Party Executive Committee has told MaltaToday that she has not yet received the letter.
Marthese Portelli said "I have been constantly checking my email throughout the day and I still have not received the list of witnesses from Dr Pullicino Orlando."
She added that she has been checkeing the email address through which she normally communicates with Pullicino Orlando.
"I have also checked whether Dr Pullicino Orlando sent a formal letter to the party headquarters but I have not received anything there neither," Portelli said.
In the letter Pullicino Orlando also accused Cachia Caruana of colluding with high ranking officials representing foreign states "in a clear attempt at bypassing the Nationalist Party parliamentary group and the Maltese parliament" and "fommenting the unrest which has led to the difficulties faced by Lawrence Gonzi, both within our party and in parliament."
In his letter to Portelli, the MP said that although he was informed this morning that he had to present his witness list today Wednesday following a meeting held at the PN headquarters on Tuesday meeting.
"It is only fair that the list be sent immediately to Mr Cachia Caruana, as agreed. Mr Cachia Caruana will obviously be forwarding it to his 'portavoce', Mrs Daphne Caruana Galizia, so I thought it only fair to forward a copy of this letter to real journalists as well," Pullicino Orlando said, referring to the Malta Independent columnist and blogger whom he accuses of carrying out the former ambassador's bidding in the form of poison-pen blogs against PN critics and dissidents.
"I will demonstrate that Mr Cachia Caruana has other contacts in the Labour Party during my presentation to the executive committee. It is somewhat surprising that Mr Cachia Caruana was careless enough to reveal this fact during an interview he gave to the Sunday Times on 24 June. In this interview he mentions his 'Labour Party contacts'," Pullicino Orlando wrote in his letter to Portelli, which was distributed to the press.
"He admits that these 'Labour Party contacts' are providing him with confidential information. I am sure his 'Labour Party contacts' would not do so without expecting something in return. His reference to these 'Labour Party contacts' is, in itself, an admission of collusion with high-ranking members of the Labour Party."
Pullicino Orlando also said this was an attempt at misleading readers of the Sunday Times. "No one was expecting me to vote the way I did on the 18 June, including Mr Cachia Caruana," the MP, who voted in favour of an Opposition motion that ousted Cachia Caruana as permanent representative to the EU, said.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Karmenu Vella later revealed in a statement to the press that in 1996, when he was Tourism Minister of the Alfred Sant administration, Richard Cachia Caruana, then a director of Air Malta, approached him to express his disagreement with the airline's decision to purchase the RJ70 aircraft and to establish Azzurra Air.
In a statement issued this evening Vella explained 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.
Tensions flared in a meeting held by the Nationalist Party's executive committee on Tuesday night, as Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando refused to have Labour MPs testify in person before the PN's executive and parliamentary group, on accusations he has levelled against Richard Cachia Caruana.
In an aide memoire drafted by the PN's executive, headed by Marthese Portelli, the party called Pullicino Orlando's bluff by challenging the backbencher to present his witnesses - amongst them Labour MPs - against Richard Cachia Caruana so that they can testify 'viva voce' and not by affidavit, as the MP himself had originally suggested.
This request was the focus of a tense meeting yesterday evening, after the executive informed Pullicino Orlando that Cachia Caruana had asked that the date for the internal hearing be postponed. On the other hand, Pullicino Orlando stood his ground in demanding that his witnesses should not be paraded before the government MPs to testify physically on his accusation of collusion.
In a meeting that PN sources said soon turned into a slanging match, deputy prime minister Tonio Borg was later seen exiting the meeting room in protest.
The PN's request to have Pullicino Orlando's witnesses physically present at the PN headquarters to testify before government MPs on the accusations against Cachia Caruana is understood to present a potential setback for Pullicino Orlando, as the witnesses are believed to include high-ranking Labour officials who may reconsider testifying in person before the rival party's executive council.