[WATCH] Muscat’s reasons for early 2017 election can only be nefarious, Jason Azzopardi insists

PN MP Jason Azzopardi insists Muscat either knew Daphne Caruana Galizia would reveal Montenegro scandal or else was aware of plan to murder her when he decided to call an early election

PN MP Jason Azzopardi was a guest on tonight's Xtra
PN MP Jason Azzopardi was a guest on tonight's Xtra

Jason Azzopardi has repeated his claims that Joseph Muscat may have been aware of the plan to assassinate Daphne Caruana Galiza.

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra tonight, Azzopardi explained the reasoning behind the allegation, pointing out that the SIM cards that were eventually used in the murder were purchased in late 2016, while the Labour Party was already preparing for the election by February 2017.

The Nationalist MP pointed out that Yorgen Fenech has already admitted that he had prior knowledge of the early election of June 2017 before it was even called, and insisted that, unless one accepts that this is all a coincidence, this series of events can only be explained by two possible scenarios.

“In the best case scenario, he [Muscat] knew that the Montenegro situation was going to come out, and he knew that he could not afford for this to emerge before the election, or he was aware of the process for Daphne to be eliminated, and so the election had to happen”, Azzopardi said.

Azzopardi said that this is merely the logical conclusion, declaring that “it’s either one or the other, there’s no other way to go”.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis was also on the programme
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis was also on the programme

The Nationalist MP made similar claims in Parliament earlier this week. Muscat has since strongly denied the allegations, and sought a breach of privilege ruling in Azzopardi’s regard. The former prime minister said he would not allow anyone to sully his reputation with "slander and lies".

Azzopardi went on to criticise Muscat’s successor, Robert Abela, arguing that the two are merely “two sides of the same coin”.

When asked by presenter Saviour Balzan as to whether Abela deserves commendation for the manner in which he is taking action in the face of allegations against Labour MPs or government officials, in contrast to his predecessor, Azzopardi disagreed, stating that Abela is only acting because he has no choice.

“Robert Abela took action against Konrad Mizzi because he had no other option,” Azzopardi said, pointing out that “Abela was an MP who voted in favour of the protection which Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party wanted to give to Konrad Mizzi”.

The Nationalist MP questioned how the Prime Minister could mention the Panama Papers scandal with a straight face when the Opposition had been bringing it up for four years and receiving insults in return.

“Why did they not take steps four years ago?”, he asked. “If they had done so, Daphne would still be alive”.

However, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis disagreed, as he defended Abela’s reaction to these allegations.

“The situation is not good but the fact that we are taking action and moving forward speaks loudly... I would be worried if these actions were not being taken,” he said.

Zammit Lewis said that the message which is being sent out is a clear one – “zero tolerance for any lack of good governance”.

The minister also dismissed the Nationalist Party’s criticism of the government’s response.

“The Opposition does not have the credibility to attack us,” he said, arguing that during their tenure in government, no minister used to shoulder any political responsibility, irrespective of the scandal.

Zammit Lewis also praised the legal and judicial reforms which the government is implementing, noting that they have been very well received by the Venice Commission.

“We got a Distinction or an A+ on our proposals from the Commission,” he said.

However, Azzopardi argued that, while they are a step in the right direction, there is more that can be done.

The Nationalist MP also challenged the new Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa, insisting that if he truly is to do his job well, he should start by taking John Dalli to court over fraud and trading in influence.

"Angelo Gafa, until the beginning of 2013, had already drafted the charges in writing against the accused John Dali for participation in bribery, fraud and trading in influence," Azzopardi said, adding that “the investigation had been completed, he had printed it, and all he needed to do was present it”.

Azzopardi noted that at the time this had been prevented by then-Commissioner John Rizzo who did not feel that it was prudent to present such a case in a politically-sensitive period, but questioned why the new commissioner has not yet followed up on it since then.

“You should already have taken John Dalli to court because the work is done,” he said.

Zammit Lewis, on his part, defended Gafa, insisting that he is the right person for the job in this moment in time, and that he will help to prove how effective the reformed selection process truly is.

The Justice Minister said that the process for the selection of a new Commissioner is a transparent and meritocratic one, insisting that police commissioner all around Europe are selected through similar procedures.

“The Opposition made a mistake in their understanding of this role,” he said. “The Police Commissioner is part of the administration of the country. This is not the chief justice, who is the head of one of the pillars of our democracy.”

Zammit Lewis stressed that the current administration is one that prioritises the rule of law and the practice of good governance, noting that the government has freely given up a lot of its power in the pursuit of these goals.

“Robert Abela was the first Prime Minister who gave up all his jurisdiction within the judicial sector”, he said. “We did it because we believe we have introduced structures which are more transparent and more efficient, in how members are chose, how they are disciplined, and how they can be removed”.

The Justice Minister pointed out that, while the Nationalist Party is now insisting on the need for reform, they themselves never implemented any such reforms when in government.