Joseph Muscat refuses to clarify when he found out about 17 Black

Joseph Muscat insists he has 'nothing to add' to what he told the Caruana Galizia public inquiry when asked about 17 Black

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat entering the law courts in Valletta, accompanied by his lawyer Charlon Gouder, as he prepares to testify in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. (Photo: Nicole Meilak/MaltaToday)
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat entering the law courts in Valletta, accompanied by his lawyer Charlon Gouder, as he prepares to testify in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. (Photo: Nicole Meilak/MaltaToday)

Joseph Muscat has refused to clarify when he found out that 17 Black was a business venture between Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech.

The former prime minister told MaltaToday he had nothing to add to the testimony he gave the public inquiry that is probing Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Muscat testified last week that he relied on what Schembri, his then chief of staff, told him about the Dubai company – it was a business matter with Fenech.

When faced with the decision to keep Schembri as his chief of staff or fire him, Muscat opted to keep him in spite of the 17 Black revelations in 2018.

“I have nothing to add to my testimony,” Muscat said when asked to specify when he learnt about 17 Black.

17 Black had been shrouded in mystery since its first mention in the public domain by Caruana Galizia in February 2017.

In an enigmatic post, the journalist had put up a photo collage of Muscat, Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and John Dalli with the title ‘17 Black - the name of a company incorporated in Dubai’. She gave no further details.

When her son Matthew Caruana Galizia testified in front of the public inquiry last year he admitted that Daphne knew of the company as early as April 2016 - at the height of the Panama Papers scandal. It is unclear what information the journalist may have had about 17 Black in 2016 and early 2017.

However, at this point, the FIAU may have already been aware of the target clients of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama companies.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017 and in April 2018, the Daphne Project revealed that 17 Black and Macbridge were listed as target clients of the Panama companies opened for Mizzi and Schembri. The pair were set to receive €150,000 monthly via 17 Black and Macbridge.

Schembri had admitted in an official government press release to drafting business plans with the two companies, but said nothing ever came out of them. He also lied when he denied knowing who the companies belonged to.

Later that year, Reuters revealed that Yorgen Fenech was the owner of 17 Black.

The revelation put 17 Black within a circle of connections that included Schembri, Mizzi and Fenech, who was also a shareholder and director in Electrogas, which had one a lucrative power station tender.

Testifying in the public inquiry this week, Schembri said he had indicated 17 Black himself to his accountants but denied knowledge of Macbridge.

He also said that 17 Black had nothing to do with Electrogas and was intended as a business venture with Fenech after he finished from politics.

Schembri also said that he had informed Muscat of 17 Black but could not remember when the conversation took place. “I never did anything behind his [Muscat] back,” Schembri testified.

When Fenech was arrested in November last year and charged with masterminding Caruana Galizia’s murder, Muscat had denied knowing who owned 17 Black.

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