[WATCH] Jason Azzopardi denies implicating Labour politician in bank heist: 'I repeated what Vince Muscat told police'

Xtra on TVM | Edward Zammit Lewis and Jason Azzopardi in heated debate on Yorgen Fenech freebies and Caruana Galizia public inquiry

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi

Jason Azzopardi has refused to name the Labour politician allegedly involved in an attempted bank heist despite having repeated the claim in a radio interview.

The Opposition MP insisted on TVM’s Xtra that he was merely repeating what murder suspect Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, told police.

Muscat has allegedly implicated a Labour politician in the attempted heist on HSBC headquarters in Qormi 10 years ago. Azzopardi qualified in a radio interview last Saturday that the politician is a sitting minister and not a lawyer.

However, when repeatedly asked by show host Saviour Balzan to name the politician, the Nationalist MP insisted that the question had to be put to Vince Muscat.

Azzopardi denied that he himself ever implied the involvement of any government minister in the heist, arguing instead that he merely “repeated, or rather, referred to, what Vince Muscat il-Koħħu told the police”.

Azzopardi was taking part in a discussion on Thursday night with government counterpart, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.

Freebies from Yorgen Fenech

Both politicians were asked whether they had ever received any freebies from Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech or any of the companies he owns.

Zammit Lewis rejected the suggestion, insisting that he can produce receipts of payment for all past activities of his that were in any way associated with Fenech.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis

Azzopardi said he could not remember ever having received anything from either Fenech or his group of companies. 

However, the Opposition MP stressed that one cannot judge all the people who have had any contact with Fenech over the years in the same manner. He said a distinction had to be made between Fenech the businessman, and Fenech the alleged criminal.

“Not all people should be judged in the same way. The cutting point is November 2018. Before November 2018, Yorgen Fenech was a common citizen. After November 2018, he was the known owner of 17 Black, the company that was primarily involved in bribery of politicians like Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri,” Azzopardi said.

Caruana Galizia public inquiry

The two politicians clashed on the Caruana Galizia public inquiry with the Justice Minister arguing that the judges overseeing the inquest have enough time to conclude it successfully, and that it cannot be extended indefinitely.

“The termination date was agreed upon in the same agreement that established the inquiry. The judges asked for this to be extended, and the Prime Minister agreed and gave them a reasonable extension and deadline. But we can’t on one side claim that inquiries take too long and then in the same breath allow this to drag on as if it has taken a life of its own,” Zammit Lewis said.

Azzopardi, however, argued that the final decision on when the inquest should be concluded lies with the overseeing judges alone, and the government has no say in the matter. 

“The terms of reference of the inquiry are clear - that it is up to the board. If they feel they need more time to carry out their duties they can,” he said.

The Nationalist MP also warned that should government proceed to terminate the public inquiry by mid-December as planned, Malta will suffer consequences on a European level. 

“If the government thinks that it can come with some guillotine on the public inquiry in December, and stop, or stop the facilities afforded to the inquiry, this will have ugly consequences outside of Malta, especially in light of the vote that was taken today in the European Parliament that intimately ties European funding to the strength of each country’s rule of law,” he cautioned.

Zammit Lewis said that the judges themselves had asked for a termination date, arguing that all inquiries should be concluded within a reasonable time as opposed to dragging on for years. 

“It is not politically acceptable for an inquest to stretch to five or six years,” he said.

Balzan picked on this statement, revealing that a magisterial inquiry on allegations of fraud and corruption at the Lands Department when Azzopardi was minister responsible for the entity was still not concluded to this day, more than seven years later.

The inquiry was requested by then police inspector Jonathan Ferris.

Balzan pointed out that had the roles been reversed, the Opposition would probably be asking for the resignation of the individual who was politically responsible for the entity involved.

However, Azzopardi said that one should make a distinction between investigations where a politician is the subject of interest and ones where the politician is not being directly investigated. 

“It depends on whether the politician is the subject of interest of the inquest, as in the case of Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Adrian Hillman. The minister shouldn’t have to answer for crimes committed by members of his department. The minister answers if he is the subject of interest in the inquiry,” he said.

Both politicians agreed that there needs to be a legal revision of terms dictating magisterial inquiries to ensure that these can be completed over a shorter period of time.

Azzopardi called for bilateral discussions that can lead to legal and procedural changes. Zammit Lewis agreed, adding however, that ultimately it was up to the inquiring magistrates and the pace with which they work.

“We should sit down and talk, and there should be a termination period for inquests, but ultimately, to be clear, it is in the hands of the inquiring magistrate, irrespective of how much we change the rules of the game,” he said.