Caruana Galizia public inquiry: Silvio Debono used to meet Keith Schembri over projects, insists he was not a friend

DB Group Chairman Silvio Debono tells public inquiry Daphne Caruana Galizia was employed as his consultant ‘for a month or two’ in 2002: ‘I have nothing against her’

DB Group owner Silvio Debono (blue mask) entering court
DB Group owner Silvio Debono (blue mask) entering court

DB Group chairman Silvio Debono has said he used to speak with former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri on ongoing projects, but insisted he was never his friend. 

Debono was testifying in court on Monday during the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

"I would speak with the chief of staff on projects and things going on, but not in any capacity as a friend,” he said. 

Debono was also asked over his relationship with former minister Konrad Mizzi. He denied ever speaking with Mizzi before or after the DB-ITS tender. 

During the inquiry, Debono claimed that Daphne Caruana Galizia was employed as a consultant with him for “a month or two” in 2002. 

"I have nothing against her," he said. 

On the DB-ITS tender, Debono expressed his frustration at the fact that the company was supposed to spend €17 million on the tender, but ended up paying more. 

He also said that the price for the tender was just, presenting a document proving so. The document was passed on to the magistrates for further evaluation. 

On 19 libel cases presented against Daphne Caruana Galizia in March 2017, Debono said he wanted to wash his hands of the allegations made.

"There was a bond, the aim of these posts was to make sure the bond doesn't work out - I wanted it to work out. I wanted to wash my hands of these allegations and I wanted to make a point," he said. 

The cases were filed after Caruana Galizia tore into Debono's db Group, a hotel chain, after the latter clashed with Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil. The incident happened after the PN came out strongly against the sale of the Institute of Tourism Studies in Paceville to the db Group. Debono's chief executive had privately asked the PN leader to return money the group had donated to the party, a message Busuttil interpreted as blackmail and which he read out on Net TV.

"When she's writing that I'm corrupt, of course I'm going to open a libel case!" he exclaimed.

Debono also spoke about party donations, saying donations of around €5,000 - €7,000 were given to the Labour Party and €6,000 to the Nationalist Party. 

Paul Apap Bologna also testified in the public inquiry, presenting documents to the court. Among these documents are contracts, all the transactions at GEM, reservation cost, and a timeline of the insurance policies with relevant email correspondence and official insurance certificates.

Asked about the appointment of Gasan, and whether he was included in the email thread where Yorgen Fenech announced his resignation from the consortium, Apap Bologna replied that he was included, and would be dropping off a copy of the thread to the magistrates. 

Former government communications head Kurt Farrugia was the last to testify, bringing with him documents pertaining to the €1 million reward offered by the Prime Minister after Daphne Caruana Galizia's death for information on the case.

Asked about Nicholas Right, and whether a contract was offered to him in the run up to the 2013 and 2017 elections, Farrugia said that he was contacted before 2013, but not in relation to Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

14:50 The sitting has now ended - the next sitting will take place this Wednesday with Saviour Attard testifying at 9:30 am. Karl Azzopardi
14:46 Therese Comodini Cachia says that once all witnesses have testified, she will compile the relevant data and present it to the public inquiry board. Karl Azzopardi
14:43 They point out that, if certain information comes out from the data drive, some witnesses may have to be called back to the inquiry board - most were asked about their relationship to Yorgen Fenech, so the data extracted may open some new doors. Karl Azzopardi
14:41 Therese Comodini Cachia is discussing the data extraction by Europol officials with the inquiry board, who are asking whether the data will be accessible to them. Karl Azzopardi
14:40 The testimony has ended. Karl Azzopardi
14:36 Farrugia referred to a report prepared by government and passed on to a journalist employed at a foreign newsroom - he insists that the article was full on insinuations. Karl Azzopardi
14:30 He did say that there was some brief communication prior to 2013, but not in relation to Daphne Caruana Galizia. Karl Azzopardi
14:28 Therese Comodini Cachia starts asking about a Nicholas Right, and whether a contract was offered to him in the run up to the 2013 and 2017 elections. Karl Azzopardi
14:26 He brought with him documents pertaining to the €1 million reward offered by the Prime Minister after Daphne Caruana Galizia's death for information on the case. Karl Azzopardi
14:23 The magistrates re-enter - Kurt Farrugia steps up to the podium and takes oath. Karl Azzopardi
14:22 Kurt Farrugia is yet to enter the courtroom - the magistrates have since moved into the chamber. Karl Azzopardi
14:14 Kurt Farrugia will now soon be entering the courtroom - he is first calling his lawyer. Karl Azzopardi
14:14 He steps off the podium. Karl Azzopardi
14:13 He says he was in the email thread, but doesn't have a copy on him. He is being ordered to drop off a copy of the email thread to the board. Karl Azzopardi
14:12 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks him about the appointment of Gasan, and whether he was included in the email thread where Yorgen Fenech announced his resignation from the consortium. Karl Azzopardi
14:10 Among these documents are contracts, all the transactions at GEM, reservation cost, and a timeline of the insurance policies with relevant email correspondence and official insurance certificates. Karl Azzopardi
14:09 He has just taken oath and will be presenting documents to the court. Karl Azzopardi
14:09 Paul Apap Bologna will now be testifying. Karl Azzopardi
14:07 Silvio Debono has just been seen leaving the courtroom, and the press have been allowed in again. Karl Azzopardi
13:59 Silvio Debono will be continuing his testimony behind closed doors. Karl Azzopardi
13:58 Journalists have been asked to leave the courtroom. Karl Azzopardi
13:58 He makes a final statement to the public, saying that in 2002 Daphne Caruana Galizia was a consultant with him for a month or two. "I have nothing against her." Karl Azzopardi
13:54 He insists that he's speaking from memory. Karl Azzopardi
13:54 Debono says he might have given €5,000-7,000 a year to the Labour Party and €6,000 to the Nationalist Party. Karl Azzopardi
13:52 Judge Mallia asks if the numbers go into thousands or millions, to which he replies thousands. Karl Azzopardi
13:51 Magistrate Said Pullicino is asking about donations to political parties, and Silvio Debono insists his company has donated money to both parties. Karl Azzopardi
13:51 She asks if any concept plans were drawn up for the site before the tender came out, he replies "never". Karl Azzopardi
13:50 Comodini Cachia goes back to the ITS project, insisting that the questions being asked are not to examine what he did personally, but to understand how government tackles similar projects. Karl Azzopardi
13:46 Comodini Cachia now asks about the 19 libel cases presented on the same day against Daphne Caruana Galizia, asking what his aim was. "There was a bond, the aim of these posts was to make sure the bond doesn't work out - I wanted it to work out. I wanted to wash my hands of these allegations and I wanted to make a point." Karl Azzopardi
13:42 "I want us to meet and discuss the situation," Debono said. When Abigail Lofaro asked whether Debono would be okay with the blog posts about him remaining on her site, he insisted that he would like to discuss with the family first. Karl Azzopardi
13:40 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia now proceeds to ask Silvio Debono some questions, starting with the libel cases against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Karl Azzopardi
13:40 The magistrates are now asking about his relationship with Keith Schembri, but Debono insists that he was never friends with him. "I would speak with the chief of staff on projects and things going on, but not in any capacity as a friend.” Karl Azzopardi
13:39 Debono: "I want to make a clear statement - I want to meet with the Caruana Galizia family and come up with a solution.” Karl Azzopardi
13:36 Debono: "When she's writing that I'm corrupt, of course I'm going to open a libel case!" Karl Azzopardi
13:35 Judge Mallia is now asking about Daphne Caruana Galizia - Debono confirms that he has open libel cases against her. Karl Azzopardi
13:34 Debono: "I was always interested in opening a 5-star hotel.” He says that he always had his eyes open for this sort of project and went for it when he saw the opportunity. Karl Azzopardi
13:32 Magistrate Michael Mallia asks if Debono ever spoke with Konrad Mizzi. He denies ever speaking with him, neither before nor after the tender. Karl Azzopardi
13:30 Silvio Debono is getting quite heated about the tender, insisting that he was supposed to spend €17 million on the tender, but ended up paying more. Karl Azzopardi
13:28 As Silvio continues to insist on the integrity of the tender, Said Pullicino stops him. "We're not here to see whether the tender was just or not - we're not auditors." Karl Azzopardi
13:25 Debono passes on the report to the magistrates for further evaluation. Karl Azzopardi
13:24 He insists that the price for the tender was just, citing a report he has in hand saying so. Karl Azzopardi
13:23 The magistrates move on to the DB-ITS tender, which Debono confirms was released by Projects Malta. Karl Azzopardi
13:21 Judge Abigail Lofaro insists on how they approach a new project, even without a tender, but Debono is saying that they never come up with new projects themselves, generally going on the basis of a tender. Karl Azzopardi
13:19 Judge emeritus Michael Mallia asks Silvio Debono on how the DB group approaches new projects, and whether they consulted an architect. Karl Azzopardi
13:17 Silvio Debono enters the courtroom and takes his place on the podium. Karl Azzopardi
13:16 A knock on the door and the judges enter the courtroom. Karl Azzopardi
13:14 Corrine Vella and lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia are in the courtroom. Karl Azzopardi
13:12 Journalists have entered the courtroom. Karl Azzopardi
12:51 We are waiting outside the courtroom. Silvio Debono is in the court building, and will be testifying soon. Karl Azzopardi
12:46 DB Group chairman Silvio Debono will be testifying. Karl Azzopardi
12:46 The Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia continues this afternoon at 1 pm. Karl Azzopardi
12:45 Good afternoon. Karl Azzopardi

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