Azzopardi in breach of privilege over claim Muscat knew of assassination plot

Nationalist MP refuses to withdraw statement on Joseph Muscat, insists he will summon witnesses from Corradino prison when matter makes it to privileges committee

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi
Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi

Updated at 6:45pm with Jason Azzopardi statement and Muscat rebuttal

The Speaker of the House has found Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi in breach of parliamentary privilege, when he claimed in parliament that the former prime minister Joseph Muscat knew of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder plot.

Azzopardi claimed Muscat decided to call an early election in 2017 because he knew about the plot to murder Caruana Galizia. Azzopardi was drawing his conclusions from testimony given by a police inspector in the Caruana Galizia public inquiry today that murder suspect Yorgen Fenech had told police during interrogation that he knew an early election was on the cards at least seven months before.

Azzopardi claimed the reason for the June 2017 election was not the Egrant controversy as Muscat had claimed but the fact that he knew Caruana Galizia was onto something and a plot was hatched to murder her.

The MP, who is the lawyer to the Caruana Galizia family, declared in the House that he will not withdraw his statement.

This means that the case will now pass into the parliamentary committee of privileges.

In a statement he posted on Facebook, Muscat said the ruling confirmed that Azzopardi had abused his privileges “when lying against me and invented, without the slightest proof, that I knew of the assassination plan of Daphne Caruana Galizia from before.”

Muscat said the Speaker’s ruling shows that Azzopardi’s claims went “against every sense of justice… the Hon. Azzopardi is even insisting on this lie.”

Muscat has described the claim as “the worst abuse of parliamentary privilege that I have ever seen how long I have been following the House of Representatives.”

Muscat said only MPs could challenge the abuse of parliamentary privilege, and augured for a reform of the principle.

“Who knows how many people who are not MPs, are mentioned at random without being able to defend themselves, having no redress.

“Parliamentary privilege was created for good purpose in another time when the world was different. Today, the privilege and immunity has become outdated, especially when it is abused by MPs from whom much better is expected, because of the education and training they have been given, and especially because these same MPs portray themselves as the paragons of decency.

“The government electoral programme includes a reform of the privilege and abolition of immunity. I know that extensive work has been done on this proposal and I hope it will be carried out,” Muscat said.

Muscat made an angry intervention last week, when he told the House he would not allow anyone to sully his reputation with “slander and lies”.

“These claims, which are untrue, result from nowhere but Jason Azzopardi’s nonsensical fantasy… I understand that politics requires me to accept harsh criticism but I will allow nobody to sully my reputation with a calumny like this.”

Azzopardi to appeal Speaker’s ruling

Jason Azzopardi stood by his claims and will be lodging an appeal as per parliamentary procedure to contest the Speaker’s ruling.

Such an appeal will be discussed in the plenary and if the government shoots it down, the matter will pass on to the committee of privileges.

And at committee stage Azzopardi has promised that he will bring forward a number of witnesses, some of who are inmates at the Corradino Correctional Facility.

“At that stage, I am ready to mobilise a number of witnesses, some of whom are at the Corradino Correctional Facility. Then we will see who was telling the truth,” he said.

The implication is that Azzopardi may ask Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspects George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio, Vince Muscat and mastermind Yorgen Fenech, to testify in front of the parliamentary committee.

In a Facebook post, Azzopardi insisted that he repeated the allegation both inside and outside parliament.

“What I believed yesterday after an analysis of facts (some known and others are not), I will continue believing today,” his post read.

He also said that last Wednesday’s allegations were based on facts, which emerged from court on that day. 

Azzopardi said: “I know they were new facts to the public, and that the information might have shocked some, but that doesn’t mean that they are not true. God forbid an MP cannot analyse, interpret and conclude from facts established by forensic evidence. Then what type of MP is he?”

Muscat rebuts

In a subsequent Facebook post, Muscat hit back, insisting that no amount of witnesses would change the fact that Azzopardi’s claim was an abject lie.