Blow-by-blow: Joseph Muscat's first day in court

As it happened • Former PM, former minister Konrad Mizzi and former chief of staff Keith Schembri among group of 14 and nine companies in the dock on money laundering, fraud and conspiracy charges

21:21 Our liveblog ends here

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Nicole Meilak
21:19 No apology from Konrad Mizzi

As he walked out of court, Konrad Mizzi refused to apologise for the fraudulent deal. Mizzi started by stating that court’s gag order prohibits him from speaking about the case.

When pressed on whether he would apologise he simply responded, “Apologise for reducing energy and water prices? Apologise for reducing the out of stock medicines that a PN government left behind?”

Nicole Meilak
20:59 Joseph Muscat outside the courthouse

Speaking to journalists after today's court hearing, Joseph Muscat said the magistrate ordered that he and the other accused cannot speak or make any declarations on the case.

"I was hit by a gagging order. Today I can't say anything. Please don't ask any questions. If I do I won't be able to answer. If I answer I'll be going against the magistrate's orders."

Nicole Meilak
20:53 Keith Schembri avoids answering journalists outside court

As Keith Schembri walked out of the courthouse, he remained silent as a group of journalists tried to get a comment from him. He cited a court order on this, although the court only prohibited defendants from analysing and scrutinising evidence in the media.

Nicole Meilak
20:36 A quick recap

Joseph Muscat and all the other individuals and companies accused have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Nonetheless, sizeable freezing orders have been filed against them, to the tune of millions of euro. Lawyers and defendants cannot publish or publicly analyse or scrutinise the evidence or testimony that emerges during the court sittings.
Nicole Meilak
20:34 Sitting adjourned

The court has now adjourned the case to June 13 at 11am, with a second hearing on June 19 at 11am.
Nicole Meilak
20:30 Defence object experts on inquiry file

All the defence lawyers registered their objection to all of the experts who were nominated by the inquiring magistrate to assist the inquiry and reserved the right to make a plea in this regard.

The prosecution replied that it was reserving the right to reply to the request until after the reason and basis for this request are clarified.
Nicole Meilak
20:29 No evidence to be shared with third parties

The magistrate made it clear that the evidence was only to be accessible to the lawyers and the parties, as stated by the law. “The public interest that needs to be protected is the correct administration of justice and not the revelation of the evidence collected during the inquiry.” The court prohibited the parties or their lawyers from passing on any documents or evidence from the case file.

On the request for the gag order, the court said that it wanted to be clear that the criminal case is conducted in court and not on social media. There was no right to interpret this. Lawyers and defendants are prohibited from publishing or analysing or scrutinising the evidence or testimony which emerges during the court sittings in public.

It rejected the request for the order at this stage, unless there is evidence of any of the defendants attempting to interfere or influence the proceedings by those means.

The court said the while it would not be prohibiting the defendants from travelling abroad, it was going to uphold the request for a sufficiently onerous guarantee to be provided by the defendants to ensure their attendance for sittings. A €25,000 personal guarantee was imposed on every defendant.
Nicole Meilak
20:20 We’re back in business

The magistrate has entered the courtroom.
Nicole Meilak
19:50 Anything happening outside the law courts?

Things have certainly quietened down in Valletta, although a number of supporters have soldiered on for more than 12 hours. According to our online editor Karl Azzopardi, these supporters are joking with journalists and media persons while shouting “Joseph, Joseph” from time to time. Police are also still on the ground, but it’s a calm scene at the Great Siege Square, which houses a makeshift memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia. Indeed, it was Caruana Galizia who had first reported on possible corruption in the Vitals hospitals deal.
Nicole Meilak
19:36 Sitting adjourns for “maybe 15 minutes”

The court is adjourning the sitting for “maybe 15 minutes” to decree on the requests.
Nicole Meilak
19:29 ‘We are working without interference’

Prosecutor Francesco Refalo clarifies that by “public statements” the prosecution meant “public statements about this case”.

He addressed Debono’s allegation about the prosecution being led by obscure third parties. “It is difficult to believe that we are being guided by someone behind the scenes. I want to be clear that we are working without any interference, in accordance with the Constitution. It is a serious allegation that must be rebutted.”

He further clarifies that this did not mean that the media shouldn’t report on the proceedings.
Nicole Meilak
19:23 Lawyer: If my client wanted to absond, he would have done so long ago

Lawyer Shazoo Ghaznavi says his client, Conger-Thompson, is the only non-Maltese citizen and has been resident here for many years. When he found out about the charges, he had cooperated fully with the police. “If he wanted to abscond he would have done so long ago.”

The choice to arraign by summons is a reflection of the AG’s recognition of the trustworthiness of the defendants, he argues.

“To come here today, the first sitting, after everyone accused had turned up…why? Is there a particular reason?”

Regarding the request to prevent the defendants from speaking about the case, he agreed with Dalli’s observations. “If someone decides to say something false about you, are you supposed to just sit back and take it?”
Nicole Meilak
19:18 Lawyer: Decree will not bind company representatives

MTrace’s lawyer Chris Cilia submits that the article of the law cited only speaks of the defendant, which is the company but not its representatives, and so any eventual decree is not binding on them.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi tells the court that he is adopting Gatt's submissions with respect to his clients.
Nicole Meilak
19:14 Lawyer: Inquiry cost €12 million

Christopher Spiteri’s lawyer argues similarly. “There is no reason for prevent Christopher Spiteri from speaking publicly about it. Three years of an inquiry which cost the nation €12 million. I cannot understand how a social media post by Spiteri could affect the case.”

Furthermore, the police and AG had deemed the defendants trustworthy enough to arraign them by summons and not under arrest. “Has that changed overnight?” he asks.
Nicole Meilak
19:13 ‘Obscene and vexatious’

Filletti describes the prosecution request as “obscene and vexatious” with regards to Hillman. The Attorney General knows that Hillman lives abroad and knows that Hillman had been granted bail immediately when he was brought here on a European Arrest Warrant.

The prosecution had objected to bail, but it was granted anyway. Hillman had attended every sitting. “He has a flight booked in a couple of days’ time, not to go partying, but to go home to his wife and children. Can the Attorney General explain why now it is suddenly feeling the need to restrict his movements?”

The prosecution had bungled his European Arrest Warrant yet he decided to travel to Malta himself. Does the court have any doubt as to his trustworthiness? He came of his own volition.

On the gag order, his lawyer notes Adrian Hillman never spoke to anyone. “Why hadn’t the prosecution taken any action against the people publishing things about him? What is the justification for this obscene and vexatious, extraordinary restriction intended to harass the defendant? The court did not have one single reason to prevent him from going home.”
Nicole Meilak
19:06 ‘Such a request has never been filed’

Gatt argues that legislators only intended that this measure be used to ensure that defendants appear in court and not abscond. “But today, the only two inspectors who testified said that they had seen nothing but cooperation from the defendants.”

“In my years here I have never heard of such a request being filed, but in the case of my clients today it pleases the Attorney General to use it.” He too objects that it is unfair that his clients are not allowed to rebut allegations made against them in the media.

Franco Debono brings up Repubblika’s request to be admitted to the case as an injured party. “I couldn’t believe it when the Attorney General had nothing to add to the request that Repubblika be admitted as parte civile….. yes or no, doesn’t it have a position to take?”
Nicole Meilak
18:57 Defence objects request

Giannella De Marco also opposed the request, arguing that the media had published the names of her clients before their arraignment, yet they had not attempted to abscond. Neither had they attempted to interfere with the course of justice, she said.

Veronique Dalli adds that her client became a party not because it had been sent for, but because it had seen documents mentioning them, that had been leaked and had approached the police themselves.

It was unfair that if someone decides to write something untrue about her client on the media, her client is unable to reply, she said.
Nicole Meilak
18:49 Joseph Muscat’s travel commitments

Galea refers to Jason Azzopardi’s post on Facebook, where he claims that Joseph Muscat has a flight booked with Turkish Airlines that departs at 7:15pm.

He notes Azzopardi had also mentioned Netflix, an attempt to back up his claim that the Attorney General is doing Repubblika’s bidding.

The court asks him whether Muscat is going to catch the flight today. “Not today,” replied the lawyer.
Nicole Meilak
18:44 ’My client is muzzled’

One of the defence lawyers asks for more detail on this request.

“There were statements by Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Spiteri, like social media posts, press conferences, off the top of my head,” Refalo says.

Galea suggests that the Attorney General wants to deprive the defendants of their right to freedom of expression and muzzle them. He complains that the prosecution could have brought some printouts of these social media comments.

In what is almost certainly a reference to Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Galea says “So a certain party who is not present today can say what he likes on social media, but my client is muzzled.”
Nicole Meilak
18:39 Prosecutors request defendants be prohibited from speaking to the media

At this stage of proceedings the prosecution makes a request under an article of the Criminal Code which allows the court to impose conditions on defendants who are not in custody, to ensure that the person will not in any way unlawfully interfere with the correct administration of justice in those proceedings, that the defendants be required to obtain permission from the court to go abroad.

“In view of certain public statements and comments which did not do any good to the criminal process, which are better suited to a TV or Netflix series, in order to avoid this case becoming a trial by the media, while it is acceptable that the media do their job… in order to ensure the case continue properly, the defendants be prohibited from speaking to the media while this case is still ongoing.”
Nicole Meilak
18:33 Witness steps off the stand

Scerri leaves the witness stand. He is today’s last witness.
Nicole Meilak
18:32 Seizure details

Replying to a question from Jason Grima, Scerri explains that the signatures on the evidence bag was confirmation that the officer signing them had placed them in the bag, but not that they had seized the evidence themselves. “The police would not know what is relevant. It would at best have a vague idea of why it is to be seized.”

A question about how one of the experts allegedly sat on a chair during the search, to “demonstrate his attitude”, is dismissed by the court as irrelevant.

Nicole Meilak
18:29 Joseph Muscat’s contract

Galea asks what the foreign experts had done during the search of Muscat’s residence and who they were.

“Today I don’t remember their names, but we were looking for relevant items.” He explained that Muscat had handed over the documents they requested, particularly a contract, but the police had still searched the house as they were empowered to do in terms of the warrant.

Galea presses on whether the foreign experts had participated in the search. The inspector said two years had passed since then. The experts had examined the contract Muscat handed over.

Lawyer Veronique Dalli asks the witness whether the name Taomac Ltd had featured in the search. “Today is the first time I’m hearing it,” said the former inspector, but could not exclude it had emerged from other officers’ work.
Nicole Meilak
18:28 Searches at Malta Enterprise

Steven Tonna Lowell asks whether the experts had participated in the searches. “Yes they did,” he replies.

“Had they taken an active part in the searches?” asked the lawyer. “Had they been given a warrant to do so by the magistrate?”

Scerri replies that he had been acting on the strength of a warrant, but could not speak for the experts appointed by the magistrate.

Chris Cilias asks who had been present during the searches at Malta Enterprise. Scerri says he had been there, as had the foreign experts. “We had been looking for particular documents, I don’t recall exactly which.”

Ishmael Psaila stands up to ask a question but the court reminds him that only one lawyer is allowed to question the witnesses per defendant.
Nicole Meilak
18:16 ’The court is not here to satisfy curiosity’

Gatt is about to ask about the Irish expert, and whether he had ever met him at the Attorney General’s office, but the court interrupts the question. “The court is not here to satisfy your curiousity,” the magistrate says.

Gatt said he will be challenging the recommendations made by the expert to the inquiry, but the magistrate still questions how this ties in with the question about the Attorney General.

Meanwhile, the witness says this court expert had assisted in a number of other inquiries.
Nicole Meilak
18:11 Lawyer brings up media leaks

Galea appears very interested in the leaks to the media, pressing the witness on this point. “What did the magistrate tell you about this?”he asks.

The prosecution points out that this was not relevant to the proceedings, and the court asks what he is trying to obtain through this question.

Galea replies that he was questioning the validity of the inquiry, but that this would come at a later stage. The magistrate asks the witness whether he had been asked about the leaks. He was not, he replies.
Nicole Meilak
18:06 Joseph Muscat’s home search

A lawyer is asking about the searches at Joseph Muscat’s house. The witness says he was told to carry out the search two or three days in advance.

The progress of the investigation and next steps would be logged in an excel sheet which was shared with his superiors. Every investigator would give a weekly account in the spreadsheet and submit it to the superintendent and deputy commissioner. Scerri said he did not know whether the data was then collated in a central repository.

The search of Muscat’s house had been postponed after a media report revealed that it was going to take place and so it was decided that the search would take place the following day.
Nicole Meilak
18:00 Lawyer questions lack of police investigation

Every document which dealt with the hospitals deal went to the magistrate. Galea asks why this was the case. The witness had not been made aware of the reason, he said.

“So you don’t know why the police did not carry out their own investigation and everything had to go through the magistrate?”

The former inspector did not, as he had taken over the investigation from another inspector, mid-way through it.
Nicole Meilak
17:56 Questions on the court experts

Lawyer Edward Gatt asks who the experts were. These were one Irish man, whose name he was unable to recall, together with a team of four men that he had brought with him. He explains the mechanics of how the searches would be allocated to groups of officers.

Gatt asks whether he had ever worked with these particular experts in his twenty years of service. The witness replies that he had not.

Galea asks what the keywords were. They were three letter sequences, for example KYC, which had to occur in the title or other specified fields in the data. If they did, the data would be preserved.

“The name Joseph Muscat?” “No.”
Nicole Meilak
17:51 Cross-examination continues

Cross-examined by De Marco, he said he was not involved in the investigation per se, and that his task was to issue summons for people to be questioned by the magistrate. Although he wasn’t bound to, Scerri said that he would try to attend as many of the questioning sessions as possible.

Replying to a question from Shazoo Ghaznavi, the former police inspector said that he would not be told of the relevance of the documents he was told to seize. The magistrate would discuss what evidence was required with the group of foreign experts, who would then instruct the police as to what to look for. “We would be given a keyword and would seize every document where it featured.” The experts would then decide what to keep and what not to.
Nicole Meilak
17:44 Police interviews recorded on video

Although not sure due to the passage of years, Scerri said he believed that Spiteri had been informed by the magistrate about his right not to reply to questions which could incriminate him. The interviews were recorded on video, he added.

The order to conduct the search was issued after Spiteri's last testimony before the inquiry, confirmed the witness.
Nicole Meilak
17:41 Witness cross-examined

He is currently describing how the evidence gathered had been exhibited in court in front of the inquiring magistrate over a number of sittings in the months that followed.

Lawyer Jason Grima cross-examines, asking about the searches he had carried out on Christopher Spiteri. “Did you know that Spiteri had already testified four times before the magistrate before the searches?” he asks.

Scerri confirmed that he had. Spiteri had always cooperated with the investigation. The police had not suspected Spiteri of involvement in any crimes at the time, he said in reply to another question from Grima.
Nicole Meilak
17:31 Former inspector testifies

Former police inspector Anthony Scerri takes the stand next.

He had started assisting the inquiring magistrate around two years in, when the investigation was already at an advanced stage.

He had accompanied Stivala during a search at Nexia BT's offices. He had also assisted in a search at Pierre Sladden’s family home in Xghajra, where a number of mobile devices were seized.
Nicole Meilak
17:28 No parallel police investigations

De Marco asks about Meli and Gatt, who are charged as company officers, whether Stivala had checked with the MBR to confirm whether they held those roles.

"During my time there until April 2021 I don't think any of them were suspects... I don't remember doing it if I did. I was not doing it myself. I would meet the inquiring magistrate and she would tell us what evidence to collect."

He said there were no police investigations running in parallel to the magisterial inquiry. The other inspector appointed to assist Stivala in the inquiry was reassigned to another unit.
Nicole Meilak
17:24 Accused questioned by superintendent

Stivala had questioned Ivan Vassallo not as an interrogation but simply to have an idea of the extent of Technoline’s operations, he said.

"Did you ask Vassallo to testify before Magistrate Gabriella Vella?" his lawyer Arthur Azzopardi asks.

"No. All that I gathered I exhibited in the inquiry."
Nicole Meilak
17:14 Superintendent takes the stand

Next to the witness stand is Superintendent Rennie Stivala from the Economic Crime Unit, who had investigated the case when he was stationed at FCID.

Stivala said coordinated police raids had taken place at six places in 2020, where electronic equipment had been seized. Another warrant was issued two days later in relation to internet service and cloud storage data providers that might have relevant data still on their servers.

He had been present for witness depositions during the inquiry, explaining that over 100 witnesses had given evidence.
Nicole Meilak
17:08 Tax department provided information to the inquiry

Refalo asks the witness whether the Tax Department had exhibited any information to the inquiry. The witness said the department had done so but that he had not testified before the inquiry himself.
Nicole Meilak
17:05 Tax commissioner representative takes the stand

Witness Joseph Caruana for the Tax Commissioner testifies that they had made a request to the police to investigate and charge Spiteri on tax-related crimes. He exhibits a copy of the letter.

Lawyer Jason Grima asks on what basis this was sent. "The Tax Commissioner must give the police dispensation to investigate and charge the person identified for tax-related offences," the witness replied

They gave the police the green light to investigate further as the police already had further information, he explains. The tax commissioner had not sent for Spiteri, he confirms.
Nicole Meilak
17:01 Court upholds freezing orders

Edward Gatt submits that the court had given its interpretation as to what framework applies. But his concern was that he did not know what measure the court is using to say the amounts in question was believable.

He quoted page 82 of the inquiry report: “The precise sums involved, and the extent to which these were nefarious, are debatable.” In the case of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi the inquiry says “not applicable”.

The magistrate repeated that at this stage it was not empowered to evaluate the evidence as that this was the remit of the Criminal Court, unless the AG recommended that the case be heard by the court of magistrates. The court upheld the prosecution’s requests for the freezing orders “for each and every one of the persons identified.”
Nicole Meilak
16:49 Court rejects requests, again

The court rejected the request that the AG indicate the page number of the proces verbal that indicates Sciacca’s proceeds, pointing out that her court had already decreed on this, and said that it could not.

On the request that the proceeds of crime be identified in the cases where defendants are charged both in their individual capacities as well as in representation of their respective companies, the court rejected that request too.

“The court, when it comes to decide on the request for attachment and freezing orders, must order that the property subject to confiscation be seized without any legal distinction between the proceeds of crime which ended up in the defendant’s possession personally or vicariously.”
Nicole Meilak
16:45 Personal vs corporate gains

Charles Mercieca, for Meli and Gatt, argues that the prosecutor, before requesting a freezing order for a person, must take into account what quality the person targeted was acting in. “Individually, vicariously or in representation of a company…. the inquiring magistrate had not done this so it was up to the Attorney General to do so.”
Nicole Meilak
16:38 Prosecution stands by court’s decree

The court asks the prosecution how it wishes to reply to the requests. Refalo says: “In truth, these requests have already been overcome half an hour ago when the court decreed on the submissions made by the defence some two hours ago. So the prosecution is resting on the court’s decree.”

The prosecution was giving an amount and was not obliged to distinguish between personal and business funds, he said, inviting the defence lawyers to point out what article of the law they were basing their request on.
Nicole Meilak
16:35 Lawyers want financial distinction between individuals and companies

Lawyer Giannella De Marco makes a slightly different request for Mario Victor Gatt - that the prosecution distinguish between the portion of the money to be frozen that was the defendant’s own and which was Technoline’s and which was Eurybates’s.

Charles Mercieca does the same for Meli, Mtrace and the Steward companies.
Nicole Meilak
16:31 Franco Debono insists on evidence

Franco Debono said it was in the best interests of justice that one of the prosecuting officials identify the pages where the amounts are taken from. However, the magistrate points out that this issue has already been decided.

But Debono insists and loudly repeats his demand. The prosecution had not indicated on what basis the €20 million was arrived at. “He’s taken an oath on the charges, taken an oath on the freezing order and he doesn’t want to say where they came from?”

He said the situation was “confused” and that this confusion was affecting people’s rights.

The magistrate stops the lawyer before he embarked on his third iteration of his argument.
Nicole Meilak
16:25 ’The court is a rubber stamp’

Filletti is concluding his submissions. He says if the court must rely on the say-so of the Attorney General, when it is clear that they do not know what the inquiry contains, and neither do the police, “then the court is truly only a rubber stamp”.
Nicole Meilak
16:23 Lawyer: Inquiry conclusions inadmissible Procedure dictates that the evidence gathered by the inquiry go to the AG, because the evidence is meant to be the basis for the AG’s decision whether to prosecute and how, argued Filletti, who is representing Adrian Hillman. The inquiry’s conclusions were inadmissible a priori, he said.

When the boxes went to the AG they were supposed to be used to make a decision, not to be exhibited lock stock and barrel in the compilation of evidence.

The preconditions for a freezing order were not present, Filletti submitted. “The figure represents alleged transactions to which Adrian Hilman had been exposed to.”
Nicole Meilak
16:19 Lawyer: Proceeds of crime is not laundered money

Filletti tells the court that this is a situation where court-appointed experts had "usurped the functions of the magistrate and established that there was money laundering".

“The conclusions say he might have been involved in certain transactions and possibly made X amount of illicit proceeds. The proceeds of crime is not the laundered money that he might have been exposed to.”
Nicole Meilak
16:09 Magistrate rejects defence’s argument

The court rejected the defence's request that it order the prosecution to justify the amounts requested in the attachment and freezing orders.

The magistrate sped through her decree. But the general thrust of it seems to be that she disagrees with the defence's argument that the amounts to be frozen must be proven at this stage. The court has no discretion to change the amount stipulated by the Attorney General. If it were to attempt to do so it would be prematurely expressing itself on the merits.
Nicole Meilak
16:05 Freezing order amounts do not need to be determined

The law doesn’t require the amounts to be determined in order for the freezing orders to be issued, were it to do so the court would be expressing itself on the merits, says the magistrate. “The court must only see whether there are reasonable grounds and not reach some particular level of proof.”
Nicole Meilak
16:04 The sitting resumes

The sitting has resumed just over an hour after it was suspended. Magistrate Montebello will now read out her decree.
Nicole Meilak
16:02 Read the magisterial inquiry

We’re still waiting for today’s sitting to continue. In the meantime, you can read the full proces-verbal of the magisterial inquiry here. Last Sunday, MaltaToday published the full report into the Vitals hospitals deal, which includes investigators’ conclusions based on the evidence collected over four and a half years.
Nicole Meilak
15:47 ’This is another Egrant’

Earlier on Tuesday, we asked Labour supporters why they showed up to support Joseph Muscat. They told us that they believe Joseph Muscat is innocent, that he did nothing wrong and the charges were a way of getting back at him “for the good he did for the country”.

“This is another Egrant, and he will prove them wrong once again,” one supporter told us.

When asked on former minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat’s Chief of Staff, they were more hesitant in stressing their innocence, but the majority still said they believed they did nothing wrong.

Nicole Meilak
15:42 Bernard Grech: Muscat protests outside court ‘a black day’

After today’s scenes outside the law courts, Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech urged Net TV followers to use their vote in a bid to curtail Labour’s expected majority in the 2024 European elections.

“It is a black day indeed… we must be certainly being perceived as a kind of jungle to witness the scenes outside these law courts,” Grech said.

Nicole Meilak
15:04 Meanwhile outside the courthouse, Kurt Sansone tells us it’s a wait-and-see situation for journalists who occasionally assemble in front of the court door when word gets out that someone is exiting. “There are no crowds but a few groups of people are still gathered around the square, talking about what “they did to Joseph” and how “they hate him because of the defeats he inflicted on them”, presumably references to the Nationalist Party. Nicole Meilak
14:54 What has happened so far?

To summarise, all the people and companies accused have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Their lawyers are insisting on evidence to justify the freezing orders placed on their clients. These amounts run into the millions – for Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, these amounts reach €30 million apiece.
Nicole Meilak
14:50 Sitting briefly adjourned

The court has adjourned the sitting briefly in order to prepare a decree on the various requests. The magistrate has retired to her chambers.
Nicole Meilak
14:42 Lawyers insist on evidence

Galea is telling the court that he will ask for this evidence again and again “until I’m blue in the face… because he will not find the evidence supporting the €30 million freezing order, for sure!”. Lawyer Veronique Dalli explained to the court that she was not going to join the rest of the defence on this request, as the issue does not concern her client. Dalli together with lawyers Dean Hili, Rachel Powell and Kris Scicluna are representing Taomac Ltd.
Nicole Meilak
14:39 Lawyers continue submissions

One lawyer points out that the pages indicated by the prosecution are simply where the magistrate begins to state what the charges are to be. “This so that one can appreciate the weakness and abuse that this request represents.”

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell joined Filletti’s request, and added that the AG is giving as evidence the only part of the proces-verbal which isn’t evidence. Rather, this specific part of the inquiry specifies the amounts allegedly laundered, not the proceeds of the crime, accusing Refalo of confusing the two.
Nicole Meilak
14:37 Franco Debono challenges the evidence

Franco Debono is building an argument on the fact that the actual evidential basis of the charges is not known. He reminds the court that the defendants are struck by an attachment order, calling it a “textbook case of inequality of arms”.

He says the lawyers need time to see and examine the exhibits in order to contest the freezing orders. “Maybe we aren’t as good as the Attorney General and can go through all the evidence in a week,” the lawyer says. “If the prosecutor is not capable of justifying them, and he is being evasive, then the subsidiary issue arises…. this is new territory, the law is still new.”
Nicole Meilak
14:22 ’This is the evidence’

When the court asked the prosecution to identify the evidence relevant to the freezing order, Refalo pointed at the pile of boxes and computer towers. “This is the evidence,” he said.

One of the lawyers again asks the five prosecutors to indicate where the amount of criminal proceeds emerges from. Refalo responds: “If you just look at the 1200 pages that were disclosed to the defence, from page 1109 onwards, there is a list of the crimes their clients are accused of. We have the good fortune of having had an inquiring magistrate who took the initiative to do this.”
Nicole Meilak
14:16 Accused testified four times in inquiry

Lawyer Jason Grima, representing Christopher Spiteri, argues that his client testified four times before the inquiring magistrate without a lawyer or warning of his legal rights, alleging that he had been told by the magistrate that he didn't need one. He was surprised to have his offices raided and documents and computers seized a few days later.
Nicole Meilak
14:14 Inquiry file exhibited in court

From the witness stand, court registrar Franklin Calleja formally exhibits the inquiry file, known as the proces-verbal, to the court. Filletti asks the witness whether he could say what happened to the inquiry documents in the days between the conclusion of the inquiry and the delivery of the acts to the AG.

But Calleja replies in the negative. “I am not aware or informed of the contents of the inquiry.”

The court says it had already instructed the parties that the first evidence to be exhibited by the prosecution must be evidence relevant to the justification of the freezing orders.
Nicole Meilak
14:11 Crowd chants heard in the courtroom

Despite being a couple of floors up, the crowd’s chants of “Aħna Magħqudin” (We are United) can be heard from inside the courtroom.

Meanwhile, the court dictates a note in the acts, stating that the parties have all requested that the prosecution justify the amounts they requested be frozen. The court orders the prosecutors to identify the evidence it would be using, while reserving the right to decree on the matter at a later stage.

Prosecutor Refalo says the evidence is in the proces-verbal, calling the registrar of the Criminal Court to the Stand.
Nicole Meilak
13:57 Lawyers want prosecution to explain freezing orders

Lawyer Vince Galea says he had read the inquiry, and the process by which the sums were arrived at didn’t emerge clearly. He reminds the prosecution that they have confirmed the amounts on oath.

Franco Debono asks the prosecution to explain this process under oath. Debono, representing Sciacca Grill, is getting worked up now, pointing out that his client does not feature in the inquiry report. “I want the prosecutor to take an oath and indicate where this €20 million claim for Sciacca Grill comes from!”
Nicole Meilak
13:54 Prosecution defends freezing order

The magistrate turns to the prosecution and asks what evidence they have to justify the freezing order. Refalo replies that the justification emerges “from the 1,200 pages of the inquiry”.

The lawyers begin to clamour their objections. The magistrate appears to be getting annoyed now and orders the lawyers not to talk over each other.
Nicole Meilak
13:51 Defence continues to challenge AG

The defence team is still making their submissions regarding the freezing orders. Franco Debono said the Attorney General “should be eager to tell us” how the €20 million freezing order was decided against his client. Lawyer Giannella De Marco, for Meli and Gatt, also submits that the prosecution, “at this stage, when requesting these freezing orders, should first of all indicate the basis for the amounts they want to freeze.”

Steven Tonna Lowell explained that he made his request because, from the acts he had seen, Nexia BT, Karl Cini and Brian Tonna had not received the sums alleged. Lawyer Vince Galea argues that logic dictates that the court needs to have an idea before even temporarily upholding the freezing order requests.
Nicole Meilak
13:47 Bernard Grech: You deserve better

A quick pause from the courtroom arguments. Opposition leader Bernard Grech said on Facebook that the Prime Minister “lost control” of his own supporters after they protested outside of the law courts, “against [Abela’s] own wishes”.

”These are political pirates. Don’t let them use you to continue stealing public money while rubbishing Malta’s name and escaping with the money and our dignity.”

Nicole Meilak
13:40 Discrepancies in frozen amounts

Filletti continues, saying that the court “must be convinced that at least there is a semblance of justification for the amounts requested to be frozen. The AG only needs to specify the documents upon which the amounts were established, not the entire inquiry.”

Furthermore, this exercise should have already been done to reach the amount requested, argued the lawyer.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, representing Bondin, says the inquiry mentions €2.3 million, but the Attorney General decided to impose a €12 million freezing order instead. The court must see what evidence was used to reach this figure, he argues.

Lawyer Jason Grima, representing Spiteri, said an amount in the thousands had been traced to his client by the inquiry, but he had been struck by a €30 million freezing order. Jonathan Vella did not feature in the inquiry as having taken “one cent”, he said. “So the AG should be made to justify these amounts.”
Nicole Meilak
13:34 Lawyer questions amounts frozen

Lawyer Stefano Filletti points out that the attachment and freezing orders were not recommended in the inquiry, but instead came from the Attorney General. “So in the two days before the charges were issued, the Attorney General went through it and established the amounts,” he said.

”There is not one euro that is tied to Hillman. If not one expert concluded that Hillman moved a single euro, I want to know how the Attorney General arrived at the €30 million figure, euro by euro.”

He also points out that the Attorney General may suggest amounts for freezing orders, but this does not bind the court, he says.
Nicole Meilak
13:31 ’Defence needs to examine evidence’

Lawyer Edward Gatt says the defence needs time to examine the evidence before it can contest the freezing order, pointing out that the prosecution will exhibit the proces-verbal and use it to justify the requests. But in truth the obligation of disclosure binds the Attorney General to instruct the police to do so. “Is he expecting to exhibit the entire inquiry to substantiate the freezing order and then the court turns to me in the expectation of replying without having seen it?”
Nicole Meilak
13:24 Defence wants freezing order amounts justified

Lawyer Franco Debono insists on a justification of the amounts specified in the freezing orders. “Our client hasn’t been spoken to or given any disclosure. Usually during arraignments, there is a request for a freezing order, followed by arguments about it,” he said.

The court asks the lawyer what disposition of the law he is basing his request on. Prosecutor Refalo said it made chronological sense for the charges and evidence supporting them to be exhibited before discussing the request for freezing orders.
Nicole Meilak
13:22 Companies answer to the charges

Now it’s the companies’ turn to answer to the charges. Court reporter Matthew Agius tells us that “the likelihood of anything other than a ‘not guilty’ plea is the same as that of an August snowstorm in Malta”.

And he is correct – the companies have all pleaded not guilty.
Nicole Meilak
13:15 Nexia BT officials: not guilty

Brian Tonna tells the court he is a retired auditor, and pleads not guilty. Karl Cini, the last of the individuals to be charged, denies the charges against him.
Nicole Meilak
13:13 Accused plead not guilty

All the people accused are being asked to submit their pleas. As is expected, everyone appears to be pleading not guilty. These include IT manager Clarence Conger Thompson, auditors Christopher Spiteri and Jonathan Vella, lawyer David Meli, medical equipment supplier Ivan Vassallo and his business partner Mario Victor Gatt.

Mtrace’s Brian Bondin tells the court he is a general manager and pleads not guilty. Adrian Hillman gives “university lecturer” as his profession and pleads not guilty. Businessman Pierre Sladden, also not guilty.
Nicole Meilak
13:07 Joseph Muscat pleads ‘absolutely not guilty’

As Joseph Muscat is asked to plead, he says that he is self-employed, working as an advisor in economics and management. When asked to enter his plea, he replies: “Absolutely not guilty”.

Konrad Mizzi, who says he is a management consultant, also pleads not guilty. “Business owner” Keith Schembri similarly pleads not guilty.
Nicole Meilak
13:04 Joseph Muscat’s lawyer asks for cross-examination

Lawyer Vincent Galea, who is representing Joseph Muscat, is asking the court for permission to cross-examine Refalo. The court observes that the article of the law he based the request on applied to the Court of Magistrates as a court of criminal judicature, while this was the Court of Magistrates as a court of compilation and denies the request. "The court sees that the cross-examination takes place after the prosecution witnesses testify... and not after the reading of the charges by the Attorney General."

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, for Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Nexia BT, informs the court that he wishes to make the same request, as does Giannella De Marco. Stefano Filletti and Franco Debono join them, explaining that the reason for the request is in order to establish how the amounts of the freezing orders were established.
Nicole Meilak
13:00 Freezing orders

After reading the list of offences. Refalo moves on to the requests for freezing orders against the accused. Should guilt be found, besides any sentence, the court is requested to order the confiscation of all assets up to those values and to order the perpetual interdiction of the defendants.
Nicole Meilak
12:48 Charges, charges, charges

Go ahead and prepare yourself a warm beverage, maybe even go on your lunch break. The charges are still being read out, and we’re on page 19 out of 25. According to our senior court reporter: “At this point, over 45 minutes into the prosecutor's reading of monotonous and repetitive blocks of legal text, few people in the courtroom seem to be following what is being said.”
Nicole Meilak
12:31 Joseph Muscat’s charges

Refalo continues reading out the charges. Joseph Muscat is charged with, "in his role as Prime Minister, having requested, received or accepted for himself or on behalf of others gifts or promises or or offers of money, or promise thereof", in return for giving the gifter an undue advantage. Similar charges are read out against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.
Nicole Meilak
12:28 Karl Cini leaves the courtroom

Magistrate Montebello interrupts the prosecutor and allows Karl Cini to leave the courtroom momentarily, while the charges continue to be read out. The reason for this is unclear at this time.
Nicole Meilak
12:23 A long way to go...

Yes, the charges are still being read out. In fact, we are on page 17 of the charge sheet out of a total 25 pages.

Meanwhile Manuel Cuschieri has made his exit, declining to answer journalists’ questions as he walked through Republic Street. Labour supporters kept rushing to him to shake his hand or applaud him.
Nicole Meilak
12:09 Charges taking longer than usual

Often during arraignments, the defence "takes the charges as read," thereby exempting the prosecution from having to read out the charges. This time, the court is evidently taking no chances of having any potential fingerhold for fair trial rights breaches and so the charges are being read out in their entirety.

There are 32 charges in all, each a paragraph long, hence the long time needed to read them out.
Nicole Meilak
12:07 Meanwhile, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola has given her two cents on the scenes outside the law courts today, saying they “are not what Malta should be about”.

”We need real leadership. We need this constant Government-fuelled tribalism to stop. Our politics needs to go beyond the Prime Minister's hyper-partisanship. We need justice to work without political pressure,” she wrote on Facebook.

”Today is a reminder of just how important the election on 8 June is. If you're still wondering about the value of your vote, look at Valletta today.”

Nicole Meilak
12:00 Matters of procedure

After exhibiting the birth certificates and criminal record sheets for the defendants, one by one, prosecutor Francesco Refalo is reading out the charges at the request of the court. This should take a few minutes.
Nicole Meilak
11:46 Magistrate briefs the courtroom

The magistrate is explaining to the lawyers how the proceedings will be held - they are to make questions and submissions in a particular order and where more than one lawyer is representing a single party, only one may address the court or witnesses.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti tells the court that Adrian Hilman resides in the UK has travelled to Malta to attend and is renouncing the right of speciality, choosing to contest the charges in Malta.
Nicole Meilak
11:41 The sitting begins

Magistrate Rachel Montebello has entered the courtroom. After taking roll-call of the defendants she warns everyone to keep things civil and maintain order.
Nicole Meilak
11:35 A peek inside the courtroom

Hall 22 is normally used for juries and criminal court sittings. To the left of the room there are the prosecutors and police officers. The rest of the ground floor appears to be occupied by defence lawyers, roughly 27. Journalists are sat in the public gallery.
Nicole Meilak
11:31 Executive editor Kurt Sansone tells us that the large crowd outside court has now dispersed, with people either leaving or gathering in small groups in the little shade around. “The atmostphere has returned to relative normality,” he says.

There was some tension between journalists and supporters earlier on. Supporters were confronting journalists and accusing them of stirring the pot. Some took a bit of an aggressive tone towards our journalist Matthew Farrugia and others, shaming them for filming the commotion and accusing them of attempting to provoke the crowd.

Nicole Meilak
11:26 People are now being allowed inside the courtroom. The case is being heard in Hall 22, the largest courtroom available in the building. With 14 people and nine companies charged, space has been an issue for the small courthouse. Court reporter Matthew Agius tells us that there is a pile of boxes, four boxes deep and seven across, towards the front of the courtroom. “Presumably, this is the physical evidence collected during the inquiry, which is being exhibited,” he tells us. Nicole Meilak
11:01 Joseph Muscat has made his entrance.The crowd came alive as Joseph Muscat made his way to the front of the courthouse. Supporters are clapping and cheering loudly, waving their party flags and holding up photos of Muscat. Watch his entrance here.

Nicole Meilak
10:55 And Konrad Mizzi is next to arrive. Before entering the square outside court he took questions from journalists, denying that he ever took money from people and never accepted illicit monies. He called the experts’ report in the magisterial inquiry “unprofessional” and “biased”. Watch the full video below.

Nicole Meilak
10:49 People are waiting along the side of the courthouse in anticipation of Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi’s entrance. Meanwhile outside the courtroom there is a mix of lawyers, press, and people accused of multimillion euro fraud. Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Keith Schembri are amongst the soon-to-be defendants mingling and chatting amongst themselves. Nicole Meilak
10:38 A short update from our court reporter Matthew Agius on the proceedings. “Last week, Reppublika’s request to join proceedings as parte civile was rejected. They filed another request before Rachel Montebello, but this was rejected this morning. Repubblika and its honorary President Robert Aquilina have now filed an application asking the magistrate to reconsider her position, claiming that both Repubblika and Aquilina had suffered damages.” Nicole Meilak
10:36 Our online editor Karl Azzopardi was outside the courthouse asking people why they came out to support Joseph Muscat today, and whether they think he is innocent. Here’s what they had to say.

Nicole Meilak
10:21 Inside the court building, Muscat's lawyers, Charlon Gouder and Vince Galea, made it a point to shake hands with Jason Azzopardi as they walked up the stairs. Azzopardi, on behalf of Repubblika, had signed the four applications requesting the inquiry. Nicole Meilak
10:21 Keith Schembri has entered the courthouse. Supporters greeted him with applause and cheer as they chanted “Viva l-Labour”. Some supporters pat him on the back, others grabbed his head and kissed him on the forehead. A hero’s welcome indeed.

Nicole Meilak
10:03 Meanwhile, our senior court report Matthew Agius has also been in Valletta for a few hours now. The courtroom itself is still closed, but there is heavy police presence inside the building. “Access to the upper floor of the court building, where the arraignment is to take place, is heavily restricted.” Nicole Meilak
10:01 Our executive editor Kurt Sansone has been on the ground since 9am. Here’s what he has to say about the situation outside the courthouse: “People started gathering early in anticipation of Muscat’s arrival. There have been spontaneous bursts of applause and cheers with chants of ‘Viva l-Labour’, ‘Joseph, Joseph’ and the singing of the PL hymn. The situation is relatively calm as people bake under the sun. There is also a notable police presence to maintain order and journalists have been assigned personal protection as a precautionary measure.” Nicole Meilak
09:51 Manuel Cuschieri has now arrived in Valletta to a round of applause from supporters. Just last week, Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle thanked Cuschieri for supporting her husband in the moment of truth, while encouraging people to attend today’s show of support “peacefully and serenely”.

Nicole Meilak
09:46 Who is facing charges today?

It’s a long list – 14 people and 14 companies are going to be arraigned today. Joseph Muscat and Mizzi are facing charges of accepting bribes and corruption in public office. Keith Schembri is being charged with offences relating to the solicitation of bribes and abuse of his office to exact an unlawful advantage “through threats or abuse of authority”.

Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, are to be charged together with their firm Nexia BT with knowingly assisting Muscat to accept bribes. Former Progress Press director Adrian Hillman and businessman Pierre Sladden are also being charged with money laundering.

Meanwhile, a host of other lawyers, auditors and secretaries are being charged today. These are: David Joseph Meli, Clarence John Conger-Thomson, Christopher Spiteri, Jonathan Vella, Ivan Vassallo, Mario Victor Gatt and Brian Bondin.
Nicole Meilak
09:38 The crowd is getting bigger and bigger outside court, and there is still two hours to go until all 14 people are arraigned. But supporters are energised, chanting “Ġo Kastilja Ma Tidħlux”. We’ll be providing footage and photos from the ground across all socials.

Nicole Meilak
09:34 Last night, activists from Occupy Justice Malta “spruced up” the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial opposite the courthouse with flowers, candles and posters. The group said they wanted her presence to shine brightly today. “Thank you Daphne. We miss you terribly.”

Nicole Meilak
09:29 We’re getting more scenes from outside the courthouse, where people are chanting “Viva Labour” and “Viva Joseph”. Some are holding posters with Joseph Muscat’s face.
Nicole Meilak
09:16 So what’s happening on the ground? There’s already a crowd of supporters ready to greet Joseph Muscat later today, and there’s heavy police presence in the square opposite the court. Repubblika’s honorary president Robert Aquilina, together with lawyer Jason Azzopardi, were seen entering the court, escorted by police detail. Nicole Meilak
09:04 Good morning! Welcome to the MaltaToday live blog. We have a busy day ahead of us, with former prime minister Joseph Muscat and some of his closest aides set to appear in the dock and be charged with money laundering and fraud. We will post updates here every so often to keep you updated as the day goes on. Nicole Meilak

A sense of uneasy anticipation hung over Valletta like the pall of second hand smoke, ahead of the first set of arraignments in connection with the Vitals Global Healthcare hospitals fraud.

Disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi and the former chief of staff Keith Schembri, were amongst the group of 14 individuals and nine companies who will appear in the dock before magistrate Rachel Montebello, where they will be charged with money laundering, fraud and making fraudulent gain, as well as conspiracy to commit an offence punishable by imprisonment for more than fouryears and participating in a criminal organisation with more than ten members.

The police were out in force in Valletta, prepared to handle any potential unrest in the capital should the tinderbox built up by Muscat, but also by TV show host Manuel Cuschieri, catch a spark. The risk is evidently being taken very seriously with journalists and media houses assigned police protection during the arraignment.

In addition to the money laundering, fraud and conspiracy charges, Muscat and Mizzi face charges of accepting bribes and corruption in public office, while Schembri will be charged with offences relating to the solicitation of bribes and abuse of his office to exact an unlawful advantage.

Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini are charged alongside their firm with having knowingly assisted Muscat to accept bribes.

READ ALSO: Vitals inquiry: Grand Theft Malta

Steward Malta Management’s legal representative, lawyer David Joseph Meli, is charged in both his personal capacity, as well as in representation of Steward Malta Management Ltd, of corrupting public officials - namely Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi.

Steward’s British IT manager, Clarence John Conger-Thompson and its auditor, Christopher Spiteri, are also charged with bribery-related offences.

Spiteri alone is further accused of acting with grave dishonesty in carrying out the professional activity of auditor or accountant, as well as with making false declarations to a public authority, breaching professional secrecy and omitting or making false tax declarations for Pakistani entrepreneur Shaukat Ali Chaudhry and members of Chaudhry’s family. He is also accused of perjuring himself before the magisterial inquiry.

Spiteri in his personal capacity as well as that of auditor, together with Jonathan Vella, medical equipment supplier Ivan Vassallo and his business partner Mario Victor Gatt are charged with false accounting, both in their personal capacities as well as in representation of Technoline Ltd and Eurybates Ltd.

READ ALSO: Keith Schembri ignored report that VGH chief misappropriated millions of public funds

Spiteri is also accused, in his personal capacity as well as that of auditor, together with Jonathan Bondin and David Meli, as representatives of MTrace p.l.c. and Gateway Solutions Ltd, with having knowingly made false declarations to a public authority to obtain an illicit advantage.

The arraignment was far from brief. The charges took over an hour to be read out. That was followed by the defendants confirming their particulars to the court deputy registrar and, after that, their pleas. All 14 defendants pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors Francesco Refalo, Rebekah Spiteri and Shelby Aquilina, together with Police Superintendent Hubert Cini and Inspector Wayne Rodney Borg asked the court to impose a freezing order of €30 million apiece on Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri. A freezing order of the same amount was imposed on former Progress Press managing director Adrian Hillman and businessman Pierre Sladden, who are also being charged with money laundering.  

READ ALSO: VGH top brass knew of early election in November 2016

Tonna and Cini are facing freezing orders for €20 million each, with another €20 million freezing order being requested against Nexia BT.A freezing order of €30 million each was requested against Christopher Spiteri and Jonathan Vella. A €32 million freezing order was requested for David Meli.

Other freezing orders have been filed against Ivan Vassallo (€11 million), Mario Victor Gatt (€7 million), Brian Bondin (€12 million) and Conger-Thompson (1 million). Freezing orders of the same amount were requested against their companies.

READ ALSO: A hand in every cookie jar: The projects Schembri and Mizzi sought to profit on