[WATCH] Muscat stands by Keith Schembri, defends actions in court

Joseph Muscat insists his chief of staff Keith Schembri was right to refuse to reply to questions on 17 Black in light of ongoing magisterial inquiry

Joseph Muscat was speaking during a Labour Party event on Sunday
Joseph Muscat was speaking during a Labour Party event on Sunday

The Prime Minister has stood by Keith Schembri, insisting that his chief of staff was right to refuse to answer questions on the 17 Black because a magisterial inquiry on the secret Dubai company is under way.

Joseph Muscat said that Schembri and his lawyers had decided that it was more important that the truth emerged from the inquiry than that they persisted with a libel case against Simon Busuttil.

The facts would emerge through the inquiry, he insisted, as he said he hoped it would be concluded expeditiously.

Muscat - who was speaking during a Labour Party event in Rabat today - was reacting to last Monday’s events in court which saw Schembri ceding a libel case against Busuttil, which he himself had filed, in order to avoid being questioned about the 17 Black offshore company.

“Schembri was asked to give testimony. He argued that he had already given testimony on the matter [in the magisterial inquiry] and that he couldn’t do so again because the law says that if you are a witness in an inquiry you cannot speak about the case in a public hearing,” Muscat said.

“He (Schembri) was in a situation where, if he replied to the questions in court, the ongoing inquiry could have been prejudiced and undermined in some way.”

Within this context, Schembri had decided that the inquiry’s importance was above that of the libel proceedings, Muscat emphasised. The inquiry, he said, would bring to light “all the facts”.

Referring to the Egrant saga, he said that he had acted in the same way when it came to “the invented story about Michelle and I.” In the Egrant case, time had proved him right, he said.

Agreement on Caruana Galizia inquiry board members after weeks of negotiations

Referring to the replacement of two members of the public inquiry board tasked with probing the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Muscat said that he had sat down with the slain journalist’s family to reach an agreement on who should be on the board.

He had done this, he said, “to show that the Maltese State wants all the facts to emerge and that it is not hard-headed.”

The decision to replace constitutional law expert Ian Refalo and forensics expert Anthony Abela Medici with former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and sitting judge Abigail Lofaro had been reached after weeks of negotiations, Muscat said.

He emphasise that, while some had criticised him for giving in to the family’s demands, it was in fact not a question of relenting to their requests but of common sense to try to reach an agreement.

The Labour government wanted to be a movement which strengthened the institutions, and the facts would show that Malta’s institutions are working and treat everyone equally, he said.

A weather vane as PN’s new emblem

Muscat dedicated a good portion of the rest of his speech to criticising the Opposition for what he said was inconsistency in its viewpoints.

Taking the Gozo tunnel as an example, he said the PN had been against the permanent link before this week’s storm, but had changed its mind and spoken out in favour of it while the bad weather was disrupting the channel service between Malta and its sister island.

“The weather this week was like the Opposition… because it was mixed [up]. We had storms one day and pleasant weather the next,” he said.

“I heard they (the PN) are thinking of changing their name and emblem […] I have a suggestion for a new emblem - a weather vane.”

Contrary to the Opposition, the government was in favour of the Gozo tunnel before, during and after the storm, he said. The tunnel, he underscored, would prevent situations such as the one which transpired this week, where the ferry service had to be suspended due to the inclement weather.