Edward Zammit Lewis tells inquiry that meetings, chats with Yorgen Fenech were 'in good faith'

The public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continues with the testimony of Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis

Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated three years ago in a powerful car bomb
Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated three years ago in a powerful car bomb

 

Edward Zammit Lewis dined, chatted and even went on a boat trip with Yorgen Fenech but this was done “in good faith”, the Justice Minister testified.

Zammit Lewis told the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry today that he felt incredulous when it emerged that Fenech was involved in the murder of the journalist.

“I had always communicated with him [Yorgen Fenech] in good faith… I never discussed the case with him,” he told the inquiry.

Zammit Lewis said he had eaten out with Fenech, but not often. “These took place in public places in good faith. If I had any reservations I wouldn't have gone,” he added.

He said that in these meetings he would not ask about the Panama Papers and 17 Black, despite the issues bothering him.

Fenech had been outed as the owner of Dubai company 17 Black in November 2018. Several months earlier, journalists had uncovered how the mysterious company had been listed as a target client of the Panama companies opened by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

It was in November 2019 that Fenech was arrested and charged with masterminding the murder of Caruana Galizia.

Asked why he remained in contact with Fenech after finding out about his involvement with 17 Black, Zammit Lewis said at no time did he feel that he was being prejudiced in his parliamentary work.

“I was a lawyer and was working as a lawyer again. Whenever I felt that someone could prejudice my work, I cut off contact. I receive 100s of WhatsApp messages every day starting at 6am or 7am,” Zammit Lewis said, alluding to exchanges he had with Fenech.

Asked by lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia whether the messages with Fenech were simply tourism related or of a friendly nature, he replied: “There were some messages that were friendship-related.”

Zammit Lewis told the inquiry board that he entered politics to do good and felt “betrayed” by those who had acted differently.

“I believe that since 2013 good things had been done, we weren't perfect and made mistakes,” he said, adding that the fact that the public inquiry had to be held, cast an ugly shadow over the country.

“When I saw Joseph Muscat leave that way, I felt that he shouldn't have had to leave like he did,” Zammit Lewis said.

Asked by lawyer Jason Azzopardi whether the friendship with Yorgen Fenech ended with his arrest, Zammit Lewis said he had no precise date but believed “it was well before that”.

On his friendship with Muscat, the Justice Minister said that this began when they were admitted to St Aloysius College.

Zammit Lewis said he got to know Keith Schembri through Joseph Muscat. “Although he never stood for election, Schembri started to organise the party. He entered the party with Joseph Muscat,” Zammit Lewis told the inquiry.

He said Schembri was responsible for the coordination of government work and this led to him being a very influential person in government.

Asked whether Schembri would interfere in his decisions as minister, Zammit Lewis said the former chief of staff would give direction. “I can't say he would interfere… The PM was not always available and I spoke to him very often,” he testified.

In the previous sitting, Inspector Kurt Zahra testified that exchanges between Yorgen Fenech, political figures and people from all strata of society will be exhibited in next week’s session of the compilation of evidence against Fenech on 21 October. 

READ MORE: Caruana Galizia public inquiry: Yorgen Fenech messages with politicians to be exhibited in court next week

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.

 

11:25 This concludes today's sitting. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
11:25 He concludes his testimony and steps off the stand. The next sitting is on Monday and Paul Apap Bologna is due to testify. Mark and Joe Gasan will the testify on Wednesday. Kurt Sansone
11:24 He says that he wouldn't ask about the Panama Papers and 17 Black, despite the issues bothering Muscat. Kurt Sansone
11:24 Zammit Lewis says he had eaten out with Yorgen Fenech, but not often. “These took place in public places in good faith. If I had any reservations I wouldn't have gone.” Kurt Sansone
11:22 Zammit Lewis: “I had always communicated with him [Yorgen Fenech] in good faith… I never discussed the case with him.” Kurt Sansone
11:21 Asked if he was informed as a minister of Yorgen Fenech's involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Zammit Lewis says he had been incredulous when he found out. Kurt Sansone
11:20 Zammit Lewis points out that he had been abroad mostly with Joseph Muscat. “On a political level, I have been consistent. The PM took his decision, the best in the circumstances and I respect it.” Kurt Sansone
11:19 Azzopardi points out that Zammit Lewis, Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri had gone abroad together several times. “After April 2016 when the Panama Papers came out, did you not feel uncomfortable being in the company of people who had brought such trouble to the country?” Kurt Sansone
11:18 Zammit Lewis: “Look, I don't have a precise date but I think it was well before that.” Kurt Sansone
11:18 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks about the witness’s keeping of Paul Apap Bologna at arm’s length and the friendship with Yorgen Fenech. “The contact with Yorgen Fenech stopped with his arrest, right?” Kurt Sansone
11:17 The board points out that it could have all been avoided by resignations at the appropriate time. Kurt Sansone
11:16 He immediately clarifies that the ugly shadow was the fact that the inquiry had to be held and not the conduct of the inquiry itself. Kurt Sansone
11:16 Zammit Lewis says he entered politics to do good and felt “betrayed” by those who had acted differently. “I believe that since 2013 good things had been done, we weren't perfect and made mistakes. This public inquiry has cast an ugly shadow over this country. When I saw Joseph Muscat leave that way, I felt that he shouldn't have had to leave like he did.” Kurt Sansone
11:14 The suggestion is that these projects were carried out by entities under Konrad Mizzi’s remit but the witness does not explicitly say this. Kurt Sansone
11:11 Zammit Lewis: “The large projects seem to have been done by a singular entity.” Kurt Sansone
11:11 Said Pullicino points out that almost all the ministers who testified before the board had said they had advised against some project or other, but had been overruled by the collective will of Cabinet. Kurt Sansone
11:00 Zammit Lewis says that at the time of the report, the NAO findings had not been issued and so his quoted praise of the project was made without knowledge of its shortcomings. Kurt Sansone
10:59 He is asked about a MaltaToday story in which he is quoted praising the Seabank Group project for the ITS land in St George’s Bay. An NAO investigation later flagged some shortcomings in the tendering process. Kurt Sansone
10:57 Judge Lofaro asks whether there were meetings at OPM with Yorgen Fenech in which he was present. “There hadn't been,” he replies. Kurt Sansone
10:56 Comodini Cachia points out that it appears the witness was happy to cut off Paul Apap Bologna but not Fenech. Zammit Lewis protests, insisting they cannot be compared because he occupied different roles in the different periods. Kurt Sansone
10:53 Zammit Lewis: “I was on his boat once, three years ago.” Kurt Sansone
10:53 Comodini Cachia asks whether the friendship with Yorgen Fenech included trips abroad or boating trips. Kurt Sansone
10:52 The minister says he was present at the Girgenti reception organised for Joseph Muscat’s birthday at which Yorgen Fenech was also present. Kurt Sansone
10:50 Zammit Lewis: “There were some messages that were friendship-related.” Kurt Sansone
10:50 Comodini Cachia asks about the volume and nature of the messages. “Were they simply tourism related or was it friendly?” Kurt Sansone
10:49 He is giving context to the fact that he and Fenech had exchanged hundreds of messages. Kurt Sansone
10:49 Zammit Lewis: “I stayed in contact because at no time did I feel that I was being prejudiced in my parliamentary work. I was a lawyer and was working as a lawyer again. Whenever I felt that someone could prejudice my work, I cut off contact. I receive 100s of WhatsApp messages every day starting at 6am or 7am.” Kurt Sansone
10:48 He is asked why he remained in contact with Yorgen Fenech after finding out about his involvement with 17 Black and the Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi links. Kurt Sansone
10:47 Zammit Lewis says that he knows Yorgen Fenech from around 2013/2014. He says that the Fenech family has several businesses. “I was in charge of the Malta Gaming Authority and his family has casinos, then I was tourism minister and it was my obligation to meet with operators. I knew him and after finishing as tourism minister I remained in contact with him.” Kurt Sansone
10:45 Zammit Lewis: “Paul Apap Bologna's wife is a childhood friend of my wife's. I've known him for 10 to 15 years. I haven't met him since then. My wife is also a friend of one of Mr Gasan's children.” Kurt Sansone
10:43 He is asked about his relationship with Paul Apap Bologna, an Electrogas shareholder, who was the initial promotor of the gas power station project. Kurt Sansone
10:42 Zammit Lewis: “He hadn't.” Kurt Sansone
10:42 Comodini Cachia: “Had Joseph Muscat mentioned the Electrogas project to you before the election?” Kurt Sansone
10:41 Zammit Lewis: “More no, than yes… The presentation was mostly basic information for sitting MPs and candidates.” Kurt Sansone
10:41 Comodini Cachia: “Was there a mention of government bank guarantees?” Kurt Sansone
10:40 Zammit Lewis: “No.” Kurt Sansone
10:40 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia stands up to question the witness. She asks about the energy policy presentation before the election. “Were private companies mentioned?” Kurt Sansone
10:35 Zammit Lewis: “It was very technical... it is not my sector.” Kurt Sansone
10:34 Mallia asks about the Electrogas security of supply agreement. Had he been involved? Kurt Sansone
10:33 He reminds the board that he has not been in the justice minister role for very long. Kurt Sansone
10:33 Zammit Lewis: “The government had tried to strengthen checks and balances… the advice I always gave was to change things for the better.” Kurt Sansone
10:31 Judge Mallia: “You have a series of events: Panama, 17 Black, and so on, all pointing to Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. Why did it take such a long time to remove them?” Kurt Sansone
10:30 Peter Caruana Galizia enters the courtroom and sits down next to lawyer Jason Azzopardi. Kurt Sansone
10:29 Asked about the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports dealing with Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, Zammit Lewis says he read about them in the news. “God forbid I have access to the FIAU reports,” he adds. Kurt Sansone
10:26 The minister says that despite his view on Konrad Mizzi he was bound by a collective decision when the vote of no confidence came before parliament. Kurt Sansone
10:25 Zammit Lewis: “In the light of the Panama Papers revelations, Konrad Mizzi's position was clearly untenable. Keith Schembri’s position was slightly different as he was a person of trust of the PM's. That decision had to be taken by the prime minister.” Kurt Sansone
10:24 Zammit Lewis says his experience in politics taught him that to change things one has to be on the inside. “I am part of a team and certain decisions you cannot have a direct bearing on them.” Kurt Sansone
10:19 Zammit Lewis: “He is a person, who has, I'm told, great know-how in business sectors. He would also attend Cabinet.” Kurt Sansone
10:17 Judge Abigail Lofaro asks if Keith Schembri would interfere with his work. “I can't say so. He would give direction. The PM was not always available and I spoke to him very often,” the witness says. Kurt Sansone
10:16 Zammit Lewis: “Keith Schembri in 2008 organised the party. He has skills in this regard. In government, he was responsible for the coordination of government work... this led to him being a very influential person in government.” Kurt Sansone
10:16 The board asks whether the OPM chief of staff had sweeping powers. Kurt Sansone
10:14 He says he had become aware of corruption allegations from information in the public domain. Kurt Sansone
10:12 Zammit Lewis: “When I was in Cabinet, I always stressed that processes are to be followed. Process is as important as content.” Kurt Sansone
10:12 Asked about the kitchen cabinet, Zammit Lewis says that Cabinet for him was the Tuesday morning Cabinet meeting, which he was an active member in. Kurt Sansone
10:09 Zammit Lewis: “My style is to bring everything before Cabinet, including legal notices but Konrad Mizzi had a different style. He was more of a unilateral decision maker.” Kurt Sansone
10:08 Zammit Lewis says he didn't know about the Montenegro deal and reminded the board that from June 2017 to July 2019 he was not a member of Cabinet. But the hospitals and AUM deals were discussed in Cabinet, he says. Kurt Sansone
10:07 Questioning turns to the Vitals Global Healthcare deal, the American University of Malta and Montenegro windfarm deals. The witness is asked whether these were discussed in a general manner at Cabinet level. Kurt Sansone
10:05 Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer Charles Mercieca enters the courtroom. Kurt Sansone
10:04 Zammit Lewis asks the board for guidance as he is bound by secrecy under three different laws, he says. Kurt Sansone
10:04 Chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino asks whether the energy project was given to Cabinet as a done deal. Kurt Sansone
09:56 He says the presentation took place “at a reasonable time” before the election but cannot recall the exact month. Kurt Sansone
09:56 Zammit Lewis: “The only thing I remember about the energy plan was a presentation by Konrad Mizzi to MPs and election candidates. It isn't my forte, but as a matter of fact, this presentation took place. It was an academic presentation of how they would do it, to combat the impression that it couldn't be done. It was an exercise to prepare candidates and MPs for debates on the basic principles of the energy plan.” Kurt Sansone
09:53 He is asked about the PL’s energy plan, a key policy platform for the party in that election. Kurt Sansone
09:52 Zammit Lewis sighs when asked whether he was part of the team thrashing out the politics of the 2013 election. “No. You have candidates and people who make policy. My role was as a candidate... I can't say I was a part of the campaign core team.” Kurt Sansone
09:52 He says that he wouldn't go to the Labour HQ much. “I would mostly go for televised debates, unless a candidates’ meeting was called,” he says. Kurt Sansone
09:51 Zammit Lewis: “The relationship was with Keith Schembri. I know a lot of businessmen through my work as a civil and commercial lawyer... it wasn't the case that he would introduce me to businessmen.” Kurt Sansone
09:51 He is asked whether this friendship with Keith Schembri includes businessmen. Kurt Sansone
09:50 He says that he got to know Keith Schembri through Joseph Muscat. “Although he never stood for election, Schembri started to organise the party. He entered the party with Joseph Muscat,” Zammit Lewis says. Kurt Sansone
09:49 Zammit Lewis: “It began when we were 10 or 11, when we were admitted to St Aloysius College. We had chosen different subjects but of us eventually went down the road of politics. In June 2008, Muscat became leader of the Labour Party and I had started to bring in people who had drifted away from the party and politics. Joseph Muscat doesn't mix friendship with politics.” Kurt Sansone
09:46 He is asked about his relationship with Joseph Muscat. Kurt Sansone
09:46 Zammit Lewis is currently justice minister and before that tourism minister. Kurt Sansone
09:46 Zammit Lewis says he was involved in the IIP scheme when this fell under then minister Manuel Mallia's remit. Kurt Sansone
09:45 Judge emeritus Michael Mallia asks him to quickly goes over his previous parliamentary roles. Kurt Sansone
09:43 We are at another sitting of the public inquiry. Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis takes the witness stand. Kurt Sansone
09:42 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

 

 

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