Caruana Galizia public inquiry: civil service head Mario Cutajar given access to Security Committee meetings

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar used to be present at Security Committee meeting, the Malta Security Service head told the inquiry

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar
Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar
14:32 This live blog ends here. Thank you for following. Karl Azzopardi
14:30 Next sitting will be on Friday, but we are unaware who is to testify. We are informed that the next sitting will also take place behind closed doors. Karl Azzopardi
14:26 The family of Daphne Caruana Galizia will remain indoors. Karl Azzopardi
14:26 The case will continue to be heard behind closed doors. The press are asked to leave the courtroom. Karl Azzopardi
14:25 Jason Azzopardi asks whether Bugeja met in Castille with former OPM chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Karl Azzopardi
14:25 Lawyer Therese Commodini Cachia asks a question, whether Mario Cutajar, Principal Permanent Secretary, attended the Security Committee meetings. Bugeja says "yes" and adds that the security committee meets at least once a year. Karl Azzopardi
14:23 Bugeja keeps insisting on answering questions behind closed doors. "You'll better understand me if we do it behind closed doors," he says. Karl Azzopardi
14:22 Every information that is passed on to the MSS is evaluated, that their role can be active as well as a passive. Bugeja says that the relationship with the government has always been "a good one". Karl Azzopardi
14:21 The inquiry board asks whether anyone can approach the MSS to ask to tap someone's phone. Bugeja replies, saying that interjecting phone calls is up to the discretion of the MSS. "If the police request an interception, we evaluate it and if there's enough basis for it, we pass it on to the Prime Minister and he authorizes it," Bugeja says. Karl Azzopardi
14:19 The Security Committee consists of the Prime Minister, the Home Affairs Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Opposition Leader and the Principal Permanent Secretary, Bugeja says. Detailed reports are passed on to the security committee but certain names of interest are kept confidential, he says, adding that names are never passed on to the committee. Karl Azzopardi
14:19 Bugeja says that he would like to explain MSS procedure behind closed doors. Karl Azzopardi
14:19 "I'd rather not answer that question, please," he tells the court. Karl Azzopardi
14:18 Bugeja refuses to say how many employees work within the MSS. Karl Azzopardi
14:18 "Since we have certain capabilities that only we have, certain entities, including those abroad, may ask for our services," Bugeja says, adding that the MSS often collaborated with similar foreign services abroad. Karl Azzopardi
14:17 Bugeja says that the functions of the MSS are to protect national security against espionage, organised crime and terrorism. Karl Azzopardi
14:17 The inquiry board members have said that the general questions will take place in open court but the specific questions will be asked behind closed doors. Karl Azzopardi
14:17 Bugeja says he has been occupying his role for five years, from December 2014. Karl Azzopardi
14:16 Malta Security Services Head Joseph Bugeja has already taken the stand. Karl Azzopardi
14:16 It seems we are starting earlier than expected. Karl Azzopardi
14:15 Good afternoon. We have entered the courtroom and the board members have taken their place. Karl Azzopardi

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar used to be present at Security Committee meetings, the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry heard on Wednesday. 

Head of Security Services Joseph Bugeja said that the Security Committee is made up of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Opposition Leader, and the Principal Permanent Secretary. 

Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Commodini Cachia asked him to clarify and asked whether former foreign affairs minister Carmelo Abela and principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar were members of the committee.

Bugeja said that they were and added that the security committee met at least once a year. 

“You’re telling me that Mario Cutajar was present for security briefings?” family lawyer Jason Azzopardi asked.

“Not briefings… security committee meetings,” Bugeja replied.

Azzopardi shrugged off the retort and muttered that Cutajar “shouldn’t have been present.” 

The Security Services Act, which regulates the committee, seems to lend credence to Azzopardi’s terse declaration, in that the law stipulates that “there shall be a Committee, to be known as the Security Committee, to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Security Service… [and that it] shall consist of the Prime Minister, the Minister, the Minister responsible for Foreign Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition.”

The law does not mention the Principal Permanent Secretary.

The inquiry sitting continued behind closed doors on Wednesday.

Background

In the previous sitting, the inquiry heard former boss of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU), Manfred Galdes, gave all the information he had gathered on the former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, to the former police commissioner Michael Cassar in 2016. 

The possibly incriminating evidence he gave to police included bank statements and documentation which showed the beneficial owners of certain companies, possibly Willerby Trade, a company in the British Virgin Islands, through which Keith Schembri is alleged to have been paid €100,000 in kickbacks.

Most of Galdes’s testimony took place behind closed doors.

The public inquiry will have to determine whether any wrongful action or omission by or within any State entity could have facilitated the assassination of Caruana Galizia or failed to prevent it, particularly whether the State knew or should have known of risks to the journalist’s life “at the time” of her murder.

It must also consider whether the State not only knew of, but “caused” risks to Caruana Galizia’s life.

Although its terms of reference allow for restrictions on the publication of the inquiry's report, it specifies that the board must provide the family with the opportunity to read the full report, including the redacted parts, without being granted copies of the text underlying any redactions. The family are also prohibited from divulging the redacted content.

The inquiry board, made up of Justice Emeritus Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro, is bound to present the inquiry report, once it is completed, to the Prime Minister and Attorney General, to notify the public that the inquiry has been concluded and presented to the Prime Minister, and, most notably, to publish the report within eight working days from when it is delivered to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has to table the report in Parliament within five days of receiving it.

The inquiry, which started in December, must be completed within nine months.

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