[WATCH] Muscat ‘shook with shock at news of Caruana Galizia’s murder’, spokesman says

The PM’s chief of communications Kurt Farrugia says Muscat had been incredulous at news that the Opposition was taking ownership of the Egrant allegation

Pierre Portelli (left) and Kurt Farrugia on tonight's Xtra
Pierre Portelli (left) and Kurt Farrugia on tonight's Xtra

Joseph Muscat’s chief of communications described the day Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated as his boss’s “darkest day” and a “scary time” for him,

Kurt Farrugia said on TVM’s Xtra that he couldn’t remember a “harder moment” than the day Caruana Galizia was killed.

“When we received the news, we had just returned from a press conference where we had announced a new investment,” Farrugia said, “As we were going up Castille’s steps, the Prime Minister said he received a message saying there had been a car bomb explosion.”

“Shortly later, I received a call saying the victim was Daphne Caruana Galizia,” he said. “I saw the Prime Minister shaking. They were scary times. Right after we got the news, he started putting down points for a press conference he immediately decided to call. He didn’t even write the speech for the conference in full.”

Schembri said Muscat had always feared that someone might confront or insult Caruana Galizia in some way, but never that she would be killed.

Reacting to Farrugia's recounting of his perspective of the events of that day, the PN’s head of communications Pierre Portelli said he agreed it was the hardest moment of Muscat’s career, because Caruana Galizia had been the Prime Minister’s biggest critic.

“But, on the other hand, not enough was done by the government to control the heavy criticism Caruana Galizia endured,” Portelli – a former director at the Malta Independent where Caruana Galizia was their main columnist, said, highlighting that people working from Castille were writing things against her daily.

Muscat ‘incredulous’ on Egrant

Farrugia said he was aware of rumours of an impending story about Muscat for days before Caruana Galizia alleged that Michelle Muscat was the owner of the secret Panama company Egrant.

“The Prime Minister would laugh at the rumours, believing nobody would ever cross that line. So when the allegations came out, and [Opposition leader] Simon Busuttil held a press conference, Muscat was incredulous. He could not believe what he was seeing and hearing – he was shocked – they were surreal moments,” Farrugia said.

Presenter Saviour Balzan asked Portelli whether PN MPs will pay a political price should the magisterial inquiry on Egrant reveal that the allegations were untrue.

“It up to the magistrate to verify the authenticity of the documents submitted to him, and it had rightly been the Opposition’s duty to submit them,” Portelli – who once said on Xtra that he had seen the incriminating documents – said.

“The question is why Muscat called an election in June last year. The country was doing well, but the Egrant allegation emerged... and Muscat had only called on the Police Commissioner to open an inquiry after Pilatus Bank’s owner had slipped out of the bank carrying suitcases,” Portelli said.

Portelli also said he had not expected the PN to lose its second consecutive election by so many votes. “The PN hoped it could win after the Panama Papers revelations – this injected energy into the party – but I don’t think anyone thought they could really win,” Portelli said.

Civil rights Muscat’s greatest legacy

Both Farrugia and Portelli agreed Muscat’s greatest legacy will be the government’s civil rights drive.

“His biggest legacy is that he managed to combine a strong economy with giving assistance to those in need, and at the same time moving forward in the realm of civil rights,” Farrugia said.

Portelli said the civil rights introduced were indeed a positive aspect of Muscat’s government, but that these could not obscure the more negative parts of his government.

“The Panama Papers, the Caruana Galizia murder, and the bad reputation our country has today are these very negatives. Had Muscat sacked Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, his would have been a more positive legacy.”

Portelli however said he respected Muscat’s ability to allow himself to be persuaded to change his mind about certain issues. “I remember asking Muscat about his stand on civil unions, and he had said he was against gay adoption. As time went by, he changed his mind on this. I respected him for that.”