Mizzi refuses to answer questions, former MFSA chief testifies before Caruana Galizia inquiry

Proceedings of the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Konrad Mizzi
Konrad Mizzi

The public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued on Friday, with testimony from former minister Konrad Mizzi and former Malta Financial Services Authority chief Joseph Cuschieri.

Mizzi refused to answer any of the questions put to him, after having announced he would not testify in the public inquiry, insisting the exercise has been politicised.

Mizzi, whose secret Panamanian company was revealed by Caruana Galizia in March 2016, accused the public inquiry of being politicised by key PN members playing a crucial role in the inquiry – a reference to MPs Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi, lawyers of the Caruana Galizia family.

But on Friday Michael Mallia, Abigail Lofaro and Joseph Said Pullicino ordered the former minister to appear before the board at 9:30am.

Former MFSA chief executive Joseph Cuschieri also testified, although the questions put to him by the judges appeared to be of no consuquence to the matter of the climate that preceded the Caruana Galizia assassination.

13:02 “Despite being aware of the damage to the country” he continued to relate with people who could have been involved in the murder, Said Pullicino suggests. But the witness had already said he had no idea, he says. Witness steps off the stand. Next sitting Monday 1pm. Matthew Vella
12:58 He is objecting to the board’s questions. “Why should he answer for other people? This is just for the media.” Matthew Vella
12:57 Lawyer Pawlu Lia has just entered. Matthew Vella
12:57 To withdraw a bank’s licence you need the authority of the ECB, this led to a lot of work with lawyers which took months, he said. “You can’t just withdraw it unilaterally.” Matthew Vella
12:53 Cuschieri says he had no intereference from the government. “No. I felt fully empowered to do what needed to be done. It could be that my methods, coming from the private sector didn’t go down well with the civil servants but then I adapted.” He says that a lot of work had been done under his tenure. “I also spent a lot of time with the ECB, ESMA, IOSCO, and other European regulators which we were peer reviewers of. We changed our reputation from a sleepy, inactive regulator to one making progress.” Matthew Vella
12:49 It is a known fact that you resigned two days ago. Was this from your own free will? “Yes.”
Speaking about your relationship with Yorgen Fenech, you said that you had been friends... had you been to Fenech’s home. Were there PEPs there? “No”.
Matthew Vella
12:47 Jason Azzopardi now asking questions. Before April 2016, was there ever a period where Malta was in the eye of the storm of so much criticism, such as Moneyval, Greco etc as at that period? “MFSA conducts peer reviews, then you have commissioned country reports... You have European institutions evaluating the performance of regulators. Yes, there were negative reports in the past... In 2018 when I joined we had the IMF and Moneyval as major problems.” Matthew Vella
12:43 Cuschieri says Edwina Licari, the MFSA counsel-general who accompanied them on the Las Vegas trip when she was then MGA head of legal, had resigned from the MGA in 2018 and taken a break of a few months. He says the MFSA issued its head of legal vacancy in the summer and that he encouraged her to apply. “There wasn’t much public interest in the position,” he said. Matthew Vella
12:39 Cuschieri says that at the time of his Las Vegas trip, Yorgen Fenech was not a subject person of any MFSA investigations. “At the time I felt there was no conflict, but having seen the report I reached the conclusion... At the time I didn’t feel there was anything untoward,” he says of his trip to Las Vegas while MFSA CEO and flying with licence holder Yorgen Fenech. “At the time I wasn’t aware of 17 Black, and even so, it doesn’t fall under the remit of MFSA.” Matthew Vella
12:37 As the MFSA statement and your resignation were so close to each other do you swear that you had no idea of the statement? “I swear,” Cuschieri says. Matthew Vella
12:33 Comodini Cachia points out that Cuschieri resigned the night before the conclusions of the inquiry were announced. Gouder interrupts, saying that there was no formal conclusion and that she was misleading the witness. Matthew Vella
12:33 On the Las Vegas incident, Cuschieri says the case had created a lot of stress for him, his friends and family. “I self-suspended almost a month ago. Suddenly you end up with nothing to do and I reflected a lot. This attention was being reflected on the MFSA itself, so I felt it was a good idea to go back to the private sector. I resigned irrespectively of the outcome of the inquiry. I wasn’t given any information about the inquiry.” Matthew Vella
12:32 Cuschieri says that before his time there were few MFSA inspections, and that practitioners now complain that the regulator had gone too far with onerous surveillance. He says that at the time of his appointment, the MFSA had just shut down Pilatus Bank. Matthew Vella
12:25 Cuschieri says that after the Pilatus and Satabank debacles, and the two bad assessments from Moneyval, in 2019 he started implementing their recommendations by increasing market surveillance and compliance with a team of UK experts which he said ‘cost the MFSA a lot of money’. Matthew Vella
12:22 Cuschieri tells the board the MFSA’s comptence is not anti-money laundering, which is the FIAU’s remit. MFSA deals with the conduct of financial services and compliance. Matthew Vella
12:21 Questions return to the Las Vegas trip of 2018 with Yorgen Fenech. Cuschieri says he did not retain any role as consultant for Fenech after the trip. He does not know why Charlene Bianco, a secretary at the OPM, accompanied Fenech to the trip. Matthew Vella
12:19 Cuschieri says he got to know Joseph Muscat when he was an MEP working on the roaming fees directive, after he contacted him when he worked as an executive for a cell phone operator. They became friends. He also met Keith Schembri in 2008 when he was in the Labour Party. Matthew Vella
12:14 In April 2018, weeks after leaving the MGA, Fenech had approached him about expanding his land based casinos and asked Cuschieri to attend a las vegas conference on gaming with him, as the former regulator. Matthew Vella
12:13 When he joined MGA in 2013, he started meeting the players and major stakeholders, amomg them the Tumas Group, which ran two casinos and had online gambling licences. He said that after the introductory meeting, he started frequenting Yorgen Fenech professionally and this developed into a friendship. Matthew Vella
12:12 Cuschieri was formerly MGA CEO, as well as a board member of Projects Malta, the government PPP arm. Matthew Vella
12:04 Next on the witness stand, former MFSA chief executive Joseph Cuschieri, who takes the oath and is assisted by lawyer Charlon Gouder. Cuschieri resigned this week from the MFSA before a board could formally reach its opinion on an investigation about his 2018 trip to Las Vegas with Tumas magnate and casino owner Yorgen Fenech, after he left his post as Malta Gaming Authority CEO. Matthew Vella
11:41 Next witness in 10 minutes. Matthew Vella
11:34 No further questions for Mizzi, who steps off the stand and walks out. Matthew Vella
11:34 Mizzi replies: “It involves third parties. If I win it I don’t intend taking any money from the family or anything of the sort.” Matthew Vella
11:34 “Mrs Caruana Galizia was a vocal critic of mine... I understand her family’s anger at her passing away... I had ambitions for the top role. I had visions for the country.... At news of her death, everyone was shocked... I don’t want to prejudice investigations, I cannot express an opinion on the guilt of anybody... it’s not my job. I was shocked. It impacted me and it impacted my vision.”
The Caruana Galizia family shake their heads in disbelief.
“All I can say is that I played no part and that I am saddened by it.”
Mizzi expresses his condolences to the family. Comodini Cachia points out that he has a pending libel case against Caruana Galizia.
Matthew Vella
11:29 Mizzi now gives a statement. Matthew Vella
11:27 Were you aware of did you know of anyone who was aware of the plan to eliminate Caruana Galizia? “I will make a statement later.” No further questions by the lawyers. Matthew Vella
11:26 What was your reaction to the murder of DCG? “Ma nweġibx but I will make a statement later.” Matthew Vella
11:25 Do you exclude that you are a silent partner in companies which perform money laundering? Mizzi chooses not to reply. Matthew Vella
11:24 “Do you consider yourself a faithful disciple of Muscat and Schembri?” No reply. Matthew Vella
11:24 Was there communication with the PM on the day of Caruana Galizia’s assassination? No answer. He refuses to answer when he first met Vitals’s Ram Tumuluri and whether he knew of the date of the early election in 2017. In 2014 he said the PL had a roadmap for governing. Did this include the Electrogas project? “Ma nwegibx.” How much money had Yorgen Fenech given the PL after 2012? “Ma nwegibx.” Matthew Vella
11:21 Does the witness know whether the €4 million profit taken by Yorgen Fenech was shared? Mizzi does not reply. Matthew Vella
11:19 He refuses to answer: who was the UBO of Egrant? Matthew Vella
11:18 Referring to a number of side-letters in Electrogas and Vitals deals; was the PM aware of them? Mizzi does not reply. Matthew Vella
11:18 Does he agree that the PM used a different measure with Michael Falzon and Mizzi? The question is deemed irrelevant by the board. Matthew Vella
11:18 He asks Mizzi why he was fired from the PL parliamentary group. “Ma nirrispondix”. Matthew Vella
11:17 Jason Azzopardi, MP and also a family lawyer, wants another crack at the witness. Matthew Vella
11:17 The last questions deal with Mizzi’s pre-ministerial role and whether he led the PL’s energy working group; whether it was just him, Muscat and Keith Schembri. No answer. Matthew Vella
11:14 He also refuses to answer questions about his political career and Joseph Muscat. Matthew Vella
11:14 Comodini Cachia reads from a letter in which Mizzi had said that Matthew Caruana Galizia was the son of Daphne Caruana Galizia, described as a supporter of the opposition PN. “Our client considers DCG is a political activist with a clear vendetta and is perpetrating a smear campaign against [him] with a focused political agenda. We respectfully suggest you adopt a cautious approach to your sources and not those with a political axe to grind.”
But MIzzi does not answer as to whether he appointed the law firm to send the letter. “What could Caruana Galizia have said to the ICIJ about you that scared you? What was her political axe to grind? Have you ever been written to by Matthew Caruana Galizia?”
No answer to any of the questions.
Matthew Vella
11:09 No reply likewise to questions about his Panama account, or his letter from law firm Schillings to the ICIJ. “Why did you need this law firm’s services?” Comodini Cachia asks, alluding to their reputation as reputation managers. Matthew Vella
11:07 What was the point of opening Hearnville [the Panama company]? “Ma nweġibx.” Matthew Vella
11:06 Asked about an email detailing a September meeting with Turab Musayev and Yorgen Fenech, Mizzi doesn’t answer.
He does not reply to questions aboutr: an April 2018 email from permanent secretary Ronald Mizzi to Musayev, David Galea, Yorgen Fenech and others, in which Mizzi sends amendments to a SOCAR press release to questions from the Guardian; about his Panama company and offshore structure, set up after 2013; how long before he had given instructions to Nexia BT to set them up; and who had introduced him to Nexia BT.
Matthew Vella
11:00 Questions turn to Cheng Chen and the sale of the power station, the offshore companies Torbridge, Panama companies, and New Zealand structures being opened in 2014; about his meetings with Yorgen Fenech. Again, Mizzi chooses not to answer. Matthew Vella
10:58 Can he explain why former economy minister Chris Cardona was allowed to sign MOUs but not negotiate them? Did that same happen with the witness? No reply. Matthew Vella
10:57 Can he explain the difference in price between that paid by Cifidex to acquire the wind farm, and the €7 million paid by Enemalta? The former energy minister refuses to answer. Matthew Vella
10:56 Mizzi refuses to answer: he was asked whether he participated in the negotiations for the Montenegro wind farm personally, and could he explain it; and whether his participation dates back to 2014, and was the prices already approved before negotiations with the government. Matthew Vella
10:54 Nationalist MP and Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia wants to ask Mizzi a question. Matthew Vella
10:53 “Some misunderstandings led to decisions being attributed to me... some boards which are their own legal person took decisions of their own.
“Nothing untoward ever happened. I never expected any kickbacks and always worked for the good of the country.”
Matthew Vella
10:52 “As a minister in Cabinet, I always followed the instructions of my prime minister...
Much of what was reported in these proceedings, if reported correctly by the media, was incorrect... on certain projects I took direction from the PM. In the [Vitals] hospitals MOU, I had no involvement... I took direction, I followed and I delivered.”
Matthew Vella
10:49 Mizzi is about to make a statement. Matthew Vella
10:49 Judges emerge from chambers. Matthew Vella
10:42 Mizzi is given time to consult with his lawyers by the board. The session takes a short break. Mizzi goes to speak with the lawyers outside the courtroom. Matthew Vella
10:40 Mizzi: “With respect to your board, there are magisterial inquiries underway. Once they conclude I would be happy to come back and reply to your questions.” Matthew Vella
10:39 Said Pullicino tells Mizzi he has the right to answer as he did. “What interests us here is this... we have had many ministers here pointing their fingers at you. We want to have both sides, not just one. The opportunity to make your statement is now. We aren’t judging you here; we are interested in the public administration.” Matthew Vella
10:37 Mizzi refuses to answer about every change in his portfolio, the National Audit Office reports on the ITS land transfer and VGH. Kurt Sansone
10:35 Mizzi is asked about the Mozura windfarm and when he gave Kevin Chircop the go ahead to proceed with the deal. He is asked to explain the role of Projects Malta as well. But Mizzi maintains his no answer stand. Kurt Sansone
10:34 He is asked about Shanghai Electric Power official Chang Chen and whether he had commercial ties with him, the VGH deal and its frontman Ram Tumuluri. Mizzi is also asked about the individual investors in the VGH hospitals deal but he insists on not answering any of the questions. Kurt Sansone
10:32 He asks his lawyer from the stand whether he should answer questions, which have inaccuracies like his portfolio at the time. Laughter from the public benches. Mizzi’s litany of “ma nweġibx” continues. Kurt Sansone
10:30 He is asked when was the last time he spoke to them but Mizzi sticks to his reply, choosing not to answer any of the questions. Kurt Sansone
10:29 Mizzi: “I won’t answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:29 The board: “Do you know Yorgen Fenech, Mark Gasan and Paul Apap Bologna?” Kurt Sansone
10:28 He is asked whether the memorandum of understandings on these big projects would be signed by him or other ministers. “I won’t answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:27 Mizzi is shown another document by the board, which he reads and then says... “ma nweġibx”. Kurt Sansone
10:26 Asked about the email form Nexia BT’s Karl Cini about 17 Black and whether he had any business relationship with Keith Schembri, Mizzi chooses not to answer. Kurt Sansone
10:25 He is asked whether he would have kept Schembri informed of progress on projects in his remit. “I won’t answer,” he replies. Kurt Sansone
10:24 The questions continue. Mizzi is asked whether he knew Keith Schembri before politics but opts to remain silent. “I won’t answer,” has been his standard reply. Kurt Sansone
10:22 Mizzi's other lawyer, Jean Paul Sammut takes a copy of the letter. Kurt Sansone
10:21 Mizzi says he would like to see it. Kurt Sansone
10:21 Comodini Cachia presents the inquiry with a copy of a letter issued by a UK law firm threatening legal action. Kurt Sansone
10:20 Mizzi does not reply when asked if he had taken steps against any journalist, including Daphne Caruana Galizia, after the Panama Papers were outed. Kurt Sansone
10:19 Likewise, he refuses to answer questions about any accounts he may have had at Pilatus Bank or meetings with the bank’s owner, Ali Sadr. Kurt Sansone
10:19 Neither does he answer whether he went to Dubai and whether he has a bank account there. Kurt Sansone
10:18 He is asked about the €150,000 every month that his Panama company was expected to receive from Macbridge and for what. “I won’t answer,” he chimes back. Kurt Sansone
10:17 The list of questions continues. He is asked whether he knows who the owners of Macbridge are and whether he has any ties to the company. Macbridge was, along with 17 Black, listed as a target client for Mizzi’s Panama company. He refuses to answer. Kurt Sansone
10:15 He is asked whether he knows Mario Pullicino, the Maltese agent for the LNG storage tanker at Delimara that forms part of the gas power project. Pullicino’s company had been identified as one that deposited money into the bank account of 17 Black, a Dubai firm owned by Yorgen Fenech. But again, Mizzi chooses not to answer. Kurt Sansone
10:14 Mizzi's eyes are darting around the room as the questions are being asked. Kurt Sansone
10:13 Mizzi is so eager not to answer that he interrupts the questions with his “ma nweġibx”. Kurt Sansone
10:12 He is asked about the Panama company Hearnville, the attached New Zealand trust and other structures but refuses to answer. Kurt Sansone
10:12 When the Panama Papers story broke, what was the reaction of his office? “I choose not to answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:11 Was he ever spoken to by Joseph Muscat about the allegations? “I choose not to answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:11 What was his reaction to the Panama Papers revelation in 2016? “I choose not to answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:10 Mizzi is asked a number of questions and is refusing to answer any of them. Did he know Joseph Muscat before entering politics? But Mizzi is adamant: “I won’t answer.” Kurt Sansone
10:09 It is pointed out by Jason Aazzopardi that he can only choose not to answer questions, which potentially incriminate him. The board overrules Azzopardi. Kurt Sansone
10:08 Chuckles echo around the courtroom. Kurt Sansone
10:08 The board asks him if he is in parliament. “I choose not to answer,” he replies. Kurt Sansone
10:07 Mizzi says that Azzopardi attacks him in parliament. His lawyer tells him to stop talking but he talks over him. Kurt Sansone
10:05 Comodini Cachia objects and refutes allegations made by the witness in their regard on his Facebook profile. “They are false and untrue,” she says. Kurt Sansone
10:05 The board gives Mizzi the caution, warning the witness that he can opt not to answer questions which may incriminate him. Kurt Sansone
10:04 Peralta says his client will not answer any questions. “If he feels the need to reply, I am not going to stop him,” he adds. Kurt Sansone
10:04 Azzopardi stands up: “Disclosure, Section 455, applies only to the police.” Kurt Sansone
10:04 Peralta cites case law. Kurt Sansone
10:03 Lofaro: “You cannot say we didn't give disclosure. We aren't the police.” Kurt Sansone
10:03 Peralta says there is internet trouble and they cannot find the legal provision in question. He offers to present it as a note but is shot down. Kurt Sansone
10:03 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi: “That there is character assassination of a lawyer doing his job is not acceptable.” Kurt Sansone
10:02 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia says that apart from the Facebook post yesterday, Mizzi uploaded another one this morning in which he names her and Azzopardi and makes allegations against them. She wants to go on record that they have not done anything wrong. Kurt Sansone
10:01 “Then he doesn't answer,” says Lofaro. She demands that the lawyers cite the section of the law stating that he has a right of disclosure. “Right, go ahead. There are two of you, go ahead look for it,” says Lofaro. Kurt Sansone
10:00 Peralta: “If he testifies here he can say things which can be construed by the board...” Kurt Sansone
10:00 Mallia: “You can choose not to answer questions that are incriminating. There is no right of disclosure.” Kurt Sansone
09:59 The judges remark that this has been the whole inquiry: “I don't know, I learned from the media.” Kurt Sansone
09:59 Peralta: “Yes, there is police bail on the police investigation.” Kurt Sansone
09:58 Lofaro asks whether Mizzi’s lawyers know. Kurt Sansone
09:58 Mizzi: “Ma nafx ngħidlek (I am unable to tell you).” Kurt Sansone
09:57 These include the Vitals hospitals deal, the Montenegro windfarm and others say the board. “Are you on police bail or not?” Kurt Sansone
09:56 Mizzi is asked how many inquiries he is subjected to. “I don't know, I find out from the media… They are about several aspects of the operations of the ministry,” he adds. Kurt Sansone
09:55 “Can I have quiet while I'm asking a question to the witness,” Mallia roars. Kurt Sansone
09:55 Judge Lofaro: “Karl Cini and Brian Tonna didn't do this, they just didn't testify.” Kurt Sansone
09:54 Peralta: “He [Mizzi] has a right to disclosure and yet no single paper is in his hands.” Kurt Sansone
09:53 The board says that it is constantly being contacted by journalists. Kurt Sansone
09:53 “One small point... I want to say that the board's response last night went straight to the Times,” Mizzi says. Kurt Sansone
09:51 Peralta says his client expresses his “total respect” to the board and their integrity and lack of prejudice and he takes back any offensive words. Mizzi tries to intervene twice and is spoken over by Peralta. Kurt Sansone
09:50 Mizzi says his post “might have been misreported” but insists his political rivals are using the inquiry for their ends. Kurt Sansone
09:49 Mizzi insists that “in no way shape or form” was he attributing anything to the board. “It is being used as a political platform,” he says. Kurt Sansone
09:48 Mizzi: “Out there everyone knows that the agenda of Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia is political. They attack me in parliament.” Kurt Sansone
09:47 Mallia demands an apology from Mizzi. “That the PN is using it to push an agenda... political assassination,” the inquiry board reads from Mizzi’s Facebook post. “Are we complicit with them so?” says Lofaro angrily. “If this is not contempt I don't know what is.” Kurt Sansone
09:46 Mizzi wants his lawyers to answer over his criticism of the board's handling of the inquiry, but the judges press him. Mizzi’s lawyer, Carol Peralta says his client does not want to testify, not because he will incriminate himself, but because he has the right to full disclosure on other inquiries still underway. “Until he has full disclosure we gave him the advice not to testify,” Peralta says. Kurt Sansone
09:44 Mizzi says the Facebook post is a political statement. Kurt Sansone
09:44 Judge emeritus Michael Mallia asks him about his application filed yesterday. “I assume you know what it means,” he says, pointing to Mizzi’s Facebook post. Kurt Sansone
09:42 “I swear to say the truth,” he says, emphasising ‘swear’. Kurt Sansone
09:41 Mizzi is being administered the oath. Kurt Sansone
09:41 The judges enter the court room. Judge Abigail Lofaro quips that she hadn't recognised Peralta. Kurt Sansone
09:40 Mizzi’s lawyer and retired magistrate Carol Peralta makes small talk with Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi across the table. Kurt Sansone
09:39 We’re inside the courtroom where today’s session will take place. Our court reporter tells us that Konrad Mizzi is present, sitting cross-legged and engrossed in his mobile. Kurt Sansone
09:35 In a Facebook post he has just put up, Konrad Mizzi insists he will not be participating “in the theatrics” of lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia, whom he accused of character assassination. He again says the inquiry has gone beyond its original scope and is being used to push forward a political agenda. Kurt Sansone
09:29 On Friday morning, the judges released a statement ordering Mizzi to appear in front of them, insisting that he can opt not to answer questions he feels could incriminate him, or choose to testify behind closed doors. Kurt Sansone
09:28 We are waiting for the public inquiry to start at 9:30am. The first person to testify should be former minister Konrad Mizzi. He said on Thursday he would not be attending. Kurt Sansone
09:26 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

In the previous sitting Superintendent Keith Arnaud testified that data extracted by Europol from Fenech’s devices would shortly be presented as evidence in the compilation of evidence against the murder suspect. The rest of Arnaud's testimony was behind closed doors. 

READ MORE: Police have new leads on previously unknown people linked to Caruana Galizia murder

The public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is tasked with, amongst other things, determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija home on 16 October 2017.

Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three killers, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all.

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia and includes former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

More in National