Yorgen Fenech compilation of evidence: Jason Azzopardi testifies on radio comments

The compilation of evidence against the man alleged to have masterminded the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, Yorgen Fenech, continues in a sitting that only deals with court applications filed by the defence

Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer has argued in court that radio comments by Jason Azzopardi were prejudicial to his client’s right to the presumption of innocence.

Charles Mercieca said Azzopardi, who is appearing as parte civile lawyer for the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia in criminal proceedings against Fenech, had a double responsibility to safeguard the legal principle at stake.

“Everyone in society has a duty to maintain the presumption of innocence, from the smallest to the biggest. If we lose the presumption of innocence, we forget what rule of law is,” Mercieca argued.

Fenech’s defence filed a court application last week seeking a remedy following comments that Azzopardi made during an interview on 103FM, which was also broadcast on Newsbook.

The defence claimed that Azzopardi attributed guilt to their client.

During today’s compilation of evidence against Fenech, the court dealt with the application filed by the defence. A decree will be given in another sitting.

Mercieca argued that people in Azzopardi’s position had a higher degree of responsibility to shoulder.

“Azzopardi has a double responsibility – Azzopardi is shadow minister, he wears two hats, one of the parte civile and another, where he sees fits, as an MP… he represents a constituency, a group of people who have trusted him with their votes. He says he represents 25,000 people – these can become influenced. These are 25,000 who are eligible to even judge Yorgen Fenech in a few years. He [Azzopardi] came here saying he is not a public official, completely shirking – apart from this being an irresponsible declaration –  the responsibility he was entrusted with by people with a vote,” Mercieca argued.

Azzopardi confirmed under oath that during the interview he spoke as parte civile lawyer and a “Maltese citizen”.

Parte civile lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia rubbished Mercieca’s argument, insisting that there was nothing prejudicial against his client at this stage of the proceedings and the application should be dismissed.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello will hand down a decree at a later stage.

Meanwhile, in a decree handed down in the afternoon over a separate court application filed by the defence, Montebello rejected Fenech's request for a constitutional reference after he claimed that his rights were breached because evidence was withheld.

The magistrate ruled that the Attorney General had a duty to collect all evidence, in favour and against the accused and pass this on to the inquiring magistrate.

She said nothing prevented the defence from presenting any evidence they deemed fit.

The next sitting is now on the 26 November at 10am.

Previous sitting

During the previous sitting, Yorgen Fenech requested a constitutional reference to a breach of human rights. Magistrate Rachel Montebello remarked that it was a 'wasted sitting.'

READ MORE: Magistrate complains of ‘wasted sitting’ as Fenech defence requests constitutional reference

The evidence against Fenech primarily rests on the testimony of Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the murder. Theuma, who had secretly recorded various conversations between himself, Fenech and others, was given a presidential pardon to tell all last year.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello hears the compilation of evidence against Fenech.

The defence lawyers are Marion Camilleri, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca.

The prosecution is being led by inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra, assisted by the Attorney General.

14:39 The court has adjourned. That’s it for today. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
14:38 The next sitting will be held on 26 November at 10am when further evidence will be presented. Another sitting is scheduled for 2 December. Kurt Sansone
14:37 Magistrate Rachel Montebello rejects Yorgen Fenech's request for a constitutional reference. The court disagrees with the defence's argument that the procedure adopted left the accused at a disadvantage or deprived him of the right to present evidence at a later stage. It also disagreed with the defence that the Attorney General was racing to present evidence. The magistrate rules that it was the AG’s duty to gather all evidence for and against the accused and was strictly bound by law to send all evidence back to the magistrate. Montebello says nothing prevents the accused from asking for the evidence to be presented. “Nobody is depriving the accused of the right to hear from witnesses his defence team requests,” she rules, adding the defence's claim that their client’s rights are being breached is “frivolous and vexatious”. Kurt Sansone
14:12 The magistrate enters the courtroom and the sitting begins. She is reading out a decree. Kurt Sansone
14:01 Other players, including lawyers from the office of the Attorney General and the Caruana Galizia family, have arrived. Kurt Sansone
13:53 We're back inside the courtroom. Fenech has returned and so have the lawyers for both sides. Police Inspector Keith Arnaud is also present. Kurt Sansone
13:18 We will be back shortly. Kurt Sansone
12:55 The sitting is suspended until 1:45pm. Kurt Sansone
12:54 The court has enough information for a decree to be issued but it will not be given today. Kurt Sansone
12:53 He quotes Chapter 9 Article 92 of the laws of Malta, which he says is the same, if not more concise as the definition given in Chapter 326, of a public officer. These definitions include members of parliament, he says. Mercieca ends his submissions. Kurt Sansone
12:49 Mercieca refers to the non-exhaustive list mentioned by Comodini Cachia, arguing that other persons can be considered public authorities. Kurt Sansone
12:48 Mercieca: “Therese Comodini Cachia says that the role of the parte civile is to compile evidence against the defence – however the law states that evidence for and against is to be compiled in court.” Kurt Sansone
12:41 Mercieca asks to make a few short comments. The magistrate insists that he keeps them very short. Kurt Sansone
12:41 Comodini Cachia also comments on the defence's arguments of a “violent press campaign” against Fenech, arguing that under no interpretation could a comment made on a single radio show be considered a violent press campaign. She finishes her rebuttal. Kurt Sansone
12:36 Comodini Cachia comments on the directive cited by Mercieca in his legal argument – a directive she helped write up. “The directive itself does not even define authority – it gives a non-exhaustive list of authorities, including judicial authorities. The directive never defines public authority because the European Parliament and the European Commission understand that legal traditions of each member state are different, and each state has their own definition of public authority. This is why you go to the Constitution, which is clear in its definition.” Kurt Sansone
12:28 She argues that the specific requests, among which ask for remedial measures, only relate to the procedures as they stand today in their current state. Comodini Cachia argues that at no point “have we seen evidence of irremediable harm to the defence”. She insists that on this basis alone the court application should be declined. Kurt Sansone
12:27 Parte civile lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia now makes her submissions. Kurt Sansone
12:27 Mercieca concludes: “We're not talking about stupidities (ċuċati). We're talking about the presumption of innocence. What was said on the radio can influence whoever makes the final say in Yorgen's fate.” Kurt Sansone
12:26 Mercieca argues that in this case there were two infringements –as a member of the prosecution but also as a parliamentary member. Kurt Sansone
12:20 Mercieca: “Chapter 326 of Maltese law gives an exact definition of a public official – ‘a public officer means a member of the house of representatives’.” Kurt Sansone
12:19 Mercieca is referring to various pieces of legislation, mostly European, that provide definitions of public officials. Many of these definitions do include MPs and ministers as public officials. Kurt Sansone
12:16 Mercieca continues: “Azzopardi represents a constituency, a group of people who have trusted him with their votes. He says he represents 25,000 people – these can become influenced. These are 25,000 who are eligible to even judge Yorgen Fenech in a few years. He [Azzopardi] came here saying he is not a public official, completely shirking – apart from this being an irresponsible declaration – the responsibility he was entrusted with by people with a vote.” Kurt Sansone
12:13 Mercieca: “Azzopardi has a double responsibility – Azzopardi is shadow minister, he wears two hats, one of the parte civile and another, where he sees fits, as an MP.” Kurt Sansone
12:12 He quotes different laws and insists that everyone involved in the prosecution, as well as those involved politically, must adhere to the principle of presumption of innocence. Kurt Sansone
12:10 Mercieca says ministers and public officials are among those who have to respect these rules. “Their words can influence. The higher up you are, the more responsible you have to be.” Kurt Sansone
12:08 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca argues the importance of the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. “Everyone in society has a duty to maintain the presumption of innocence, from the smallest to the biggest. If we lose the presumption of innocence, we forget what rule of law is. The people who have the most responsibility to maintain this presumption are those involved in the case and those in high positions of society. If those involved in the case don't respect the rules and regulations, who will?” Kurt Sansone
12:04 Azzopardi finishes testifying and steps off the podium. Kurt Sansone
12:04 Magistrate: “The court has already declared that the parte civile has an interest in the prosecution, there is no need to be asking these questions.” Kurt Sansone
12:03 Mercieca tries to ask whether Azzopardi can confirm that the parte civile and prosecution work closely together in this case but is again met with remarks that this has nothing to do with the matter under scrutiny. Kurt Sansone
12:01 Parte civile lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia stands up to ask Azzopardi questions. She refers to his quotes as cited in the court application filed by the defence and asks him whether in those quotes he was speaking as parte civile lawyer or not. He confirms that he was speaking as parte civile lawyer. Kurt Sansone
12:00 Mercieca tries to ask about the Standards Commissioner, but the prosecution jumps up asking how this is relevant to the incident. The magistrate jumps in: “You don't need to be asking these questions. The court was clear that all questions need to be relevant to the request.” She appears visibly annoyed. Kurt Sansone
11:59 Azzopardi: “No.” Kurt Sansone
11:59 Mercieca: “Did you inform the radio station in what capacity you would be speaking?” Kurt Sansone
11:58 Mercieca gets a mild scolding from Azzopardi and the magistrate. “We are concerned with what was said during the programme, not before,” the magistrate says. Kurt Sansone
11:58 Mercieca: “Before beginning the programme, were you informed that you were introduced as an MP?” Kurt Sansone
11:57 Azzopardi says that he made those comments as parte civile lawyer for the Caruana Galizia family but also as a “citizen of Malta”. Kurt Sansone
11:56 Mercieca: “The question is, when you revealed this information, were you speaking as a representative of the parte civile?” Kurt Sansone
11:56 Azzopardi says that on the 28 October, on the front page of MaltaToday, a newspaper, there was a quotation from lawyer Mark Sant, who represents Vince Muscat. “I was not saying anything new, just repeating what was already in the public domain. I limited myself to what was already in the public domain,” Azzopardi adds. Kurt Sansone
11:54 Azzopardi: “Yes.” Kurt Sansone
11:54 Mercieca: “Can you confirm that you spoke about claims made by Vince Muscat il-Koħħu?” Kurt Sansone
11:53 Azzopardi confirms this. Kurt Sansone
11:53 Mercieca: “In this particular programme you mentioned other topics that go beyond this case, can you confirm?” Kurt Sansone
11:52 Azzopardi: “I am not a functionary of the state, I am not a public official - the Constitution itself says that MPs cannot be considered public officials.” Kurt Sansone
11:52 Mercieca asks Azzopardi to confirm that he was introduced as an MP on the radio show. Azzopardi confirms this, and says that he answered a variety of questions. Kurt Sansone
11:47 Jason Azzopardi estimates that his constituency numbers between 20,000 and 25,000 people. “I represent the whole district, whoever they voted for,” he says. Kurt Sansone
11:47 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asks about Azzopardi’s political career, what role he takes on in politics. He also asks how big his constituency is. Kurt Sansone
11:46 QUICK REMINDER: The court is currently dealing with an application filed by Yorgen Fenech’s defence team in which they complained that their client’s right to a fair hearing was threatened following comments Jason Azzopardi made during a radio interview. The defence claim that Azzopardi attributed guilt for the Caruana Galizia murder to their client, effectively going against the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Fenech’s defence have asked the court for a remedy. Kurt Sansone
11:43 She has a change of heart and Jason Azzopardi takes to the podium. “Be professional and keep the questions related to the incident in question,” the magistrate cautions the defence lawyer. Kurt Sansone
11:43 Mercieca asks that Jason Azzopardi testify in relation to the comments he made on the radio show but the magistrate says no. Kurt Sansone
11:42 The defence has no more questions for her and she steps off the witness stand. Kurt Sansone
11:42 Debono estimates that around 13,000 viewers saw the programme. Kurt Sansone
11:41 Mercieca says that as soon as he began his segment on the show, Azzopardi was introduced as an MP. The lawyer is essentially arguing that Jason Azzopardi was on the radio programme within his remit as a member of parliament. He asks how many people saw the programme. Kurt Sansone
11:40 Debono: “When interviewing someone like Azzopardi it is difficult to limit to certain topics. You invite him because he has a lot to say.” Kurt Sansone
11:39 Mercieca: “You can confirm that Jason Azzopardi was speaking as a member of parliament.” Kurt Sansone
11:39 Mercieca asks who invited Jason Azzopardi and she answers that it's always the radio show host who sends the invite. Kurt Sansone
11:38 Debono explains the nature of the radio show. She is presenting various pen drives of the show. Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca begins by asking her questions. Kurt Sansone
11:37 Newsbook and 103FM are the internet and radio media channels of the Maltese church. Kurt Sansone
11:36 Sylvana Debono, editor-in-chief at Newsbook, and the chairperson of the Institute for Maltese Journalists (IĠM), is called to the witness box. She will be answering about comments made by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi during a radio interview with Andrew Azzopardi on 103FM, which was also broadcast live on Newsbook. Kurt Sansone
11:33 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca is speaking about a request filed yesterday. It is a request in his name as a lawyer and explains an incident that occurred. He is asking the court to consider it but the magistrate says she would rather focus on the court application filed on 9 November. Kurt Sansone
11:29 Magistrate Rachel Montebello enters the hall and the sitting starts. Kurt Sansone
11:14 Inspector Keith Arnaud has entered too. Arnaud is the chief investigator in the Caruana Galizia murder case. Everyone from the prosecution and parte civile is here. Kurt Sansone
11:05 Daphne Caruana Galizia's sister, Corinne Vella is also present. Kurt Sansone
11:02 Yorgen Fenech has just arrived inside the courtroom escorted by security guards from the Corradino Correctional Facility. Fenech speaks with his lawyer Charles Mercieca. Kurt Sansone
11:01 We are in Hall 17 waiting for the sitting to start. Lawyers are inside and Paul Caruana Galizia is also present. Kurt Sansone
11:00 Good morning. Kurt Sansone




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