Caruana Galizia murder was 'a darkness that fell over the country', former deputy PM Louis Grech tells public inquiry

Public inquiry | Former deputy prime minister Louis Grech says Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder caused sadness and shock • He disputes existence of a kitchen cabinet • Keith Schembri was a 'powerful personality'

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
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

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder was “like a darkness fell over the country”, former deputy prime minister Louis Grech told the public inquiry probing the assassination.

Grech described the mood in government when the journalist was killed in a car bomb on 16 October 2017 when he testified in today’s session.

“It was something like a darkness fell over the country. There was sadness... there were so many emotions, not just shock. The murder of Daphne was something unacceptable. Aside from its obscenity, it made no political sense,” Grech said, answering a question by lawyer Jason Azzopardi.

Grech was deputy prime minister between 2013 and 2017. He continued to serve as a consultant to government after that.

Asked about the Panama Papers revelations that emerged in 2016, Grech said this was “a setback” for the government that had achieved so much by then.

“The situation was unacceptable. My position was clear at the time. I spoke in Parliament... saying that action had to be taken… Yes, it was a great setback. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri created an enormous setback. I had spoken to Mizzi, who had told me that he had done something ethically wrong but not legally wrong,” Grech told the inquiry.

The former deputy PM said that he was “indisposed” when asked why he was absent from parliament when a vote of no confidence was taken against Mizzi in 2016.

Grech admitted that he had never faced Muscat and asked him why he kept holding on to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi despite the flak Malta was receiving because of them.

Grech said the reasons Muscat gave for calling a general election in June 2017 were economic. The protests that were taking place in the wake of the Egrant allegations and increasing economic instability as a result, prompted the prime minister to call an election, Grech said.

On Keith Schembri, Grech said that he was a “powerful personality” not because he was a businessman but because he was chief of staff in the OPM.

However, he added that this did not trouble him. “I didn't go through him to get to the prime minister. I had my remit as minister and there was a time when I didn't get along with Keith Schembri,” he said.

Asked by retired judge Michael Mallia about the gas power station project and his input in the affair, Grech said he had nothing to do with it.

“Aside from what was mentioned in cabinet… I wasn't involved in the choice, nor the evaluation, discussions with the consortium or representatives. My role was only to discuss it in cabinet. I had no involvement in anything to do with Electrogas,” he said.

Grech says it was Konrad Mizzi who had given the presentation about the project and its advantages.

Grech played down the existence of a kitchen cabinet, an assertion made by Evarist Bartolo and Edward Scicluna when they testified in the inquiry.

“It does not appear at any time that there was a kitchen cabinet. There was a cabinet of ministers. Now, if it has emerged that there was... it could be the person is judging the past by today's standards. In terms of remit, a kitchen cabinet would be expected to dominate cabinet meetings, but I never saw this,” Grech replied to a specific question on the role of the kitchen cabinet.

In the previous sitting of the inquiry, former police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar defended the police’s decision not to question the main suspects in 17 Black, citing that the police were still gathering evidence.

READ MORE: Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri never questioned on 17 Black, former police chief tells Caruana Galizia inquiry

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.

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija home on 16 October 2017. Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three killers, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all.

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

12:11 That's it for today. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
12:09 The next sitting is on Wednesday 16 September at 9:30am and Chris Fearne is expected to testify. Kurt Sansone
12:09 Grech steps off the stand and shakes hands with Azzopardi. Kurt Sansone
12:08 CCCC had drawn up a feasibility report on the construction of a bridge connecting Malta and Gozo. The study was financed by the Chinese. Eventually, government dropped the plan and stuck to the previous administration’s idea of a tunnel link between both islands. Kurt Sansone
12:07 Grech: “Il-ħmar iwaħħal f'denbu. It was not possible to find out.” Kurt Sansone
12:07 Azzopardi asks another question about CCCC. “A simple google search would have shown it is blacklisted at the time. Who was responsible for this check in the public service?” Kurt Sansone
12:06 Grech says there were sometimes reports in the papers and he raised the issues in Cabinet. “But if reports which aren't true about me are published it is not easy to keep that thread. Still there were things you could question in cabinet. Checks and balances between the institutions require true discipline. If there are deficiencies in the system they must be properly addressed, not given lip service or have money thrown at them,” he says. Kurt Sansone
12:02 Grech: “My ministry never gave out tenders or direct orders to the company.” Kurt Sansone
12:01 Azzopardi asks him how the government he formed part of kept on giving direct orders to Nexia BT that remained chummy with government entities, despite reports of bribery. Kurt Sansone
11:58 He is asked about an MOU with Chinese company CCCC (China Communications Construction Company) on a bridge project. Grech says a due diligence found the company was blacklisted and the project stopped. Kurt Sansone
11:56 Grech: “I had asked about it.” Kurt Sansone
11:55 Azzopardi continues. “Sai Mizzi was later appointed Consul in Shanghai. In this same period, we had Brian Tonna set up a secret company for Cheng Chen in BVI. Whilst you were deputy PM, what did you do on these facts?” Kurt Sansone
11:54 Azzopardi says that the forensic accountant in the Egrant inquiry had found correspondence that Machin was to promote investment between Malta and China. This involved Sai Mizzi, Konrad Mizzi’s wife, and should have been incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Azzopardi asks if Grech was involved or informed of this. “No,” he replies. Kurt Sansone
11:50 Grech: “No, aside from media reports.” Kurt Sansone
11:50 Azzopardi points out that Konrad Mizzi's father was Grech's PA when he was CEO of Air Malta. He then asks about a One News report from July 2014 that reported how Grech had negotiated a deal between Malta and China. Had he ever heard of MacFinn or MacBridge? Kurt Sansone
11:48 Grech: “No.” Kurt Sansone
11:48 Azzopardi: “Did you ever face Joseph Muscat and tell him ‘why are you holding on to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi for which we are facing so much flak’? He removed Anglu Farrugia over a Xarabank appearance and these people who caused a cataclysm in Malta were retained.” Kurt Sansone
11:43 Grech: “I was indisposed.” Kurt Sansone
11:43 Azzopardi asks about the parliamentary no confidence vote in Konrad Mizzi in 2016. “You had not attended the 2016 vote of no confidence in Mizzi, was there a reason?” Kurt Sansone
11:42 When asked what the reason did Muscat give on the decision to call a general election in June 2017, Grech says that the prime minister told him that the reason was economic because of the protests that were taking place and increasing economic instability. Kurt Sansone
11:40 Questioning moves onto the day Caruana Galizia was murdered. “It was something like a darkness fell over the country. There was sadness... there were so many emotions, not just shock. The murder of Daphne was something unacceptable. Aside from its obscenity, it made no political sense,” Grech says. Kurt Sansone
11:38 Grech: “With me, definitely not. If I had an idea, I would have acted differently. I assumed that there were so many professionals involved in scrutinising the deal - lawyers, civil servants etc...” Kurt Sansone
11:32 Azzopardi quotes from a Daphne Caruana Galizia blog post quoting a Times of Malta article about a specialised storage ship and Yorgen Fenech's connection. “Did you notice that Yorgen Fenech had a done deal with at least some people in the administration?” Kurt Sansone
11:25 Azzopardi asks about an agreement signed by Muscat in China. Muscat was accompanied by a delegation. Grech says was not involved, but Azzopardi asks whether this agreement with a state had overtures into the energy market. He replies in the negative. Kurt Sansone
11:23 Grech says that Muscat had called him while he was in Brussels to inform him that he wanted him to be involved in the electoral campaign. Kurt Sansone
11:23 Azzopardi asks if Joseph Muscat, at the time when he was Opposition leader, had informed Grech why he had asked Anglu Farrugia to resign. Farrugia was deputy leader of the Labour Party. Grech eventually took his place when Farrugia resigned. Kurt Sansone
11:19 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, appearing for the Caruana Galizia family, begins his cross-examination. Kurt Sansone
11:18 Grech is asked about Vitals and the hospitals concession. He says that he was not involved in its process. Grech says it went up to Cabinet but the details were handled by the ministry. Kurt Sansone
11:18 Welcome back. We are back in session. Kurt Sansone
11:03 The board takes a five-minute break. Kurt Sansone
11:02 Grech: “It could be that there were many opinions on this but finally the decision is that of the PM... I was in Brussels at the time.” Kurt Sansone
11:02 Judge Lofaro asks Grech about Konard Mizzi being retained as a minister without portfolio in the OPM but still having projects under his wing. “Was this not a concern to you?” Kurt Sansone
11:00 Grech repeats that his ministry was not involved in this issue. Kurt Sansone
11:00 Grech says that the Montenegro wind farm deal that Enemalta entered into was not discussed at Cabinet level as it was a matter that concerned the company. Kurt Sansone
10:59 Asked whether he had ever met Cheng Chen from Shanghai Electric Power, Grech says that he had made the memorandum of understanding with the Chinese government during a visit to China. The MOU covered sports, business and other things in general. Grech says he might have met him at this juncture. Kurt Sansone
10:43 Grech says he doesn't know Brian Tonna from Nexia BT, never met him and didn't know what he did for government. He adds that Tonna had been a director of one of his children's catering company, but he had never asked him about the Panama allegations. Kurt Sansone
10:42 Grech says Panama was discussed in the parliamentary group. At the time, there were no references to 17 Black and Macbridge, he explains. “I don't think even Egrant had emerged at the time. There were some who gave their position during this meeting,” he says. Kurt Sansone
10:39 Grech: “Panama was definitely a setback. We had implemented so much of our manifesto and achieved civil rights. There was a lot of good. One should not be defined only by the bad aspects, but also by the good. Yes, it was a great setback. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri created an enormous setback. I had spoken to Mizzi, who had told him that he had done something ethically wrong but not legally wrong.” Kurt Sansone
10:37 Said Pullicino says that Panama Papers was an earthquake around the world. Had decisions been taken at the time things would not have gone so bad, he adds. Kurt Sansone
10:30 Grech: “The situation was unacceptable. My position was clear at the time. I spoke in Parliament... saying that action had to be taken.” Kurt Sansone
10:30 Mallia says that the witness was deputy PM at the time of Panama Papers. What was his reaction? Kurt Sansone
10:30 Grech repeats that if a businessperson or persons could have influenced the government, there must be accountability. Kurt Sansone
10:26 Grech says he is presently still an advisor, on the electoral manifesto, a special envoy to the EU, coordinator for social funds and forms part of the budget task force. He helps with macro-economic policies on housing and minimum wage. Kurt Sansone
10:25 Grech: “I wasn't a minister at the time. I was an advisor and not on that subject. Had cabinet asked my opinion I would say that you must be careful with these things.” Kurt Sansone
10:25 Judge Abigail Lofaro asks him whether it rang alarm bells that the company needed this guarantee. Michael Mallia adds that the company was bankrupt in 2017. Kurt Sansone
10:24 Grech is asked whether he knew Yorgen Fenech. “If I recall correctly I met him once, with a UK investor on a Valletta project... it was after the whole process that I found out that he was an Electrogas shareholder,” Grech replies. Kurt Sansone
10:24 Grech says that in and of itself, “the guarantee, if everything is above board, is nothing bad”. “If it emerged that there was an abuse in the guarantee, one must answer for his actions, but I don't wish to comment on this,” he adds. Kurt Sansone
10:21 Grech is asked on the government guarantee for the Electrogas project. He says that he had personally voiced concerns. “Whilst it may be more common abroad... nobody drew a red line. The guarantee was to stand until the EU approved the scheme. There were concerns, but no red lines,” he insists. Kurt Sansone
10:20 Grech says he had gone to the fourth floor of the PL HQ twice. His office was on the third floor. “I never met businessmen before or after the campaign,” he says. The fourth floor is a reference to alleged meetings the PL leadership used to have with business people before the 2013 election. It was former deputy leader Anglu Farrugia who spoke about the fourth floor when he was asked to step down from deputy leader. Kurt Sansone
10:18 Grech says it was Konrad Mizzi who had given the presentation about the project and its advantages. Kurt Sansone
10:11 Grech: “Aside from what was mentioned in cabinet, absolutely nothing. I wasn't involved in the choice, nor the evaluation, discussions with the consortium or representatives. My role was only to discuss it in cabinet. I had no involvement in anything to do with Electrogas.” Kurt Sansone
10:11 Retired judge Michael Mallia, who is heading the inquiry board, asks about the gas power station project and what was Grech’s input in the affair. Kurt Sansone
10:10 Grech: “The devil is in the detail. The ministry should have an inbuilt oversight. This is something that needs work. When something is implemented by a ministry, then the minister is responsible.” Kurt Sansone
10:06 Judge Abigail Lofaro interjects: “Too much power concentrated in one person.” Kurt Sansone
10:06 Grech: “There are many grey areas. If you ask me whether he [Keith Schembri] was powerful because he was a businessman, no, but he was powerful because he was chief of staff… Every businessman would push his own agenda, but there must be a red line as in everything.” Kurt Sansone
10:05 Said Pullicino asks about the effect of business-friendly policies which could have gotten out of hand. Kurt Sansone
10:01 Grech describes Keith Schembri as a “powerful personality” but not to an extent that troubled him. “I didn't go through him to get to the prime minister. I had my remit as minister and there was a time when I didn't get along with Keith Schembri,” he says. Kurt Sansone
09:59 Grech: “If you noticed the kitchen cabinet and did nothing, you must answer for it… There might have been operations by individuals who were using government, I think for specific things and exceeding the limits.” Kurt Sansone
09:58 On business influence he says there is a line that must not be crossed and if it is, there must be consequences. Kurt Sansone
09:57 Grech: “At the time there didn't appear to be officially two forces. In my case, there was nothing of the sort. But if Minister Scicluna is correct, whoever did wrong must pay.” Kurt Sansone
09:57 The term kitchen cabinet was used by senior ministers Evarist Bartolo and Edward Scicluna while testifying in the inquiry earlier this summer. Kurt Sansone
09:56 Grech: “It does not appear at any time that there was a kitchen cabinet. There was a cabinet of ministers. Now, if it has emerged that there was... it could be the person is judging the past by today's standards. In terms of remit, a kitchen cabinet would be expected to dominate cabinet meetings, but I never saw this.” Kurt Sansone
09:51 Said Pullicino asks him about the now infamous kitchen cabinet and the conflict with ministers. Kurt Sansone
09:50 Grech says he knew Keith Schembri after the 2013 election, in reply to a specific question. Kurt Sansone
09:49 Grech: “In general... principal decisions of certain importance were taken by Cabinet. Then we would go to the ministers. Once Cabinet had decided it becomes a collective responsibility.” Kurt Sansone
09:48 Said Pullicino asks him about the administration. “From what we've heard to date, we haven't heard of a particular system,” he says, asking the witness for more information. “It is normal that no one knows everything, but that nobody knows anything is not normal,” Said Pullicino adds. Kurt Sansone
09:47 Grech tells the board that after the 2013 election he was in charge of implementing the electoral manifesto, the EU presidency and was leader of the House. He had Ian Borg as parliamentary secretary under his wing. Kurt Sansone
09:46 Grech had entered politics after leaving Air Malta in 2004 when he contested the European Parliament election and got elected for the Labour Party. He joined domestic politics in 2013, when he became Labour deputy leader instead of Anġlu Farrugia. In the 2013 general election, he was elected to parliament and was appointed deputy prime minister. Kurt Sansone
09:42 The board asks him for an overview of his political life. Kurt Sansone
09:41 Louis Grech enters the courtroom and takes the witness stand. Grech was deputy prime minister during the Labour Party’s first legislature between 2013 and 2017. Kurt Sansone
09:40 The board, after seeing a note by the Caruana Galizia family from 21 August, orders that Tax Commissioner Marvin Gaerty to request an exemption from the Prime Minister to allow him to testify about a number of individuals. Kurt Sansone
09:39 The judges have entered and the sitting begins. Kurt Sansone
09:31 Former deputy prime minister Louis Grech is expected to testify today. Kurt Sansone
09:30 The public inquiry is slated to start at 9:30am. Kurt Sansone
09:30 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

 

 

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