‘Keith Schembri’s power was inordinate’ minister tells Daphne inquiry

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo claimed that Keith Schembri effectively led a “shadow government” when he was chief of staff to former prime minister Joseph Muscat as the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia continued on Wednesday.

The inquiry seeks to determine whether the authorities could have prevented the journalist’s death.

Bartolo faced a somewhat sceptical inquiry board – composed of retired judge Michael Mallia, former Chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro – when he explained that he did his utmost to address corruption. He argued that while civil society protested in the streets – and did well to do so – he sought to protest from within, and that this was a particular challenge.

He is the first minister to testify in the inquiry, with the board highlighting that he was chosen first because he tended to be more open about his opinions on what had happened in Malta.

The next sitting takes place on Friday, with PN MEP David Casa testifying. The next minister scheduled to face the inquiry board will be Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

11:30 And with today's testimony done, our live blog ends here. Thank you for following.
John Paul Cordina
11:29 The next minister scheduled to testify will be Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, who is slated to appear in front of the inquiry board on 12 August.

But at the next sitting, on Friday 31 July. the witness will be PN MEP David Casa.
John Paul Cordina
11:28 Bartolo's testimony ends here.
John Paul Cordina
11:24 Azzopardi's last question is whether the minister had ever received an explanation for the influence Keith Schembri had over the government.

Bartolo states that he could not confirm whether Nexia BT's Brian Tonna and Karl Cini had an office in Castille as claimed. But he highlighted that Schembri, as the Prime Minister's chief of staff, had an official role within the office.
John Paul Cordina
11:22 Azzopardi asks whether Bartolo agreed that Keith Schembri was the real Prime Minister.

But Said Pullicino argues that this question had already been answered, advising Bartolo not to do so again.
John Paul Cordina
11:21 Flagging Bartolo's declaration of a "secret network," he asks whether he had any information whether this was related to freemasonry.

Bartolo states that he has no information about freemasonry in Malta, and that he would not have any problem answering if he did.
John Paul Cordina
11:20 Azzopardi now asks Bartolo to state why John Rizzo was replaced as Police Commissioner shortly after Muscat became Prime Minister.

Bartolo states that as far as he knew, this was the Prime Minister's decision, and that the procedure has now changed.
John Paul Cordina
11:19 The lawyer now asks Bartolo whether he was aware that the Italian government had sought to help Malta fight organised crime, before the assassination took place.

Bartolo replies that he was not aware of any such offer, and consequently, he confirms he does not know why the offer was refused.
John Paul Cordina
11:17 Azzopardi now asks the minister when he found out that an early general election would take place in 2017.

Bartolo said that he got to know about this a few days before it was publicly announced, though he adds that he was not surprised by the move.
John Paul Cordina
11:14 Azzopardi recalls that the minister had said that people must answer for their behaviour. He questions whether Bartolo agrees that senior government officials, including a minister and the Prime Minister himself, using private emails for government work was a sign of good governance: just this week, he introduced a private members' bill seeking to criminalise the practcice.

But Said Pullicino emphasises that the question was not within the remit of the inquiry. "We are not here to make headlines," the former Chief Justice maintains.
John Paul Cordina
11:13 Azzopardi insists that Bartolo is lying, but Lofaro disagrees.

Judge Mallia insists that if Azzopardi persists with his attitude, the board may decide not to allow him to question Bartolo further.
John Paul Cordina
11:10 Azzopardi brings up the confidence vote in Joseph Muscat presented by the opposition on 3 April, 2016, in the wake of the Panama Papers leak.

Bartolo confirms that he backed Muscat, and suggests independent MP Godfrey Farrugia – then a Labour MP who also backed Muscat in the vote – should be invited to testify.

A bit of a war of words erupts, with Bartolo contesting Azzopardi's aggressive line of questioning. Lofaro appeals for calm.
John Paul Cordina
11:08 The inquiry board encourages more attention to be paid on the way questions were structured.

Bartolo, on his part, interjects that an effort should be made to ensure that any disagreements remained civil.
John Paul Cordina
11:03 Another of the family's lawyers, Jason Azzopardi, starts questioning Bartolo.

Azzopardi starts by asking Bartolo what he would say if he told him that Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed before 16 October, 2017.

When asked to clarify by the minister, the PN MP maintains that a character assassination campaign had been going on long before, and that this was carried out by the Labour Party.

Lofaro interjects that even the PN engaged in the practice.

Azzopardi continues by stating whether this behaviour over a number of years by the party in government effectively killed Caruana Galizia before her time.
John Paul Cordina
11:01 The minister is asked about the Freedom of Information requests made by journalists which are often turned down by the government, often for apparently spurious reasons.

Bartolo states that he disagreed that information should be kept hidden, and states that he had worked towards the introduction of the Office of the Ombudsman and the removal of criminal libel, and that he wanted SLAPP suits to be addressed.

Information is crucial to a democracy, he maintains.
John Paul Cordina
11:00 Bartolo speaks of financial services, and states that all that Mario Felice – a former PN MP who had chaired the Malta Financial Services Centre – had built has been destroyed.

He specificlly referred to former MFSA chairman Joe Bannister, who he had long criticised, as an example of an individual protected by one minister after another.

The only person who took action, in the minister's opinion, was former Prime Minister Alfred Sant.
John Paul Cordina
10:57 Comodini Cachia brings up the ties between politicians and businessmen, and asks how this is tied to organised crime in context of the inquiry, in a bid to determine what level of impunity existed.

She highlights the Pilatus Bank case, and asks whether it was brought up in Cabinet. She also asks Bartolo whether he felt that contracts agreed upon beforehand were an example of this culture of impunity.
John Paul Cordina
10:54 The board reveals that Bartolo was the first minister to be asked to testify because he was one of the most vocal of the lot.

They emphasise that he would not be the last to face them.
John Paul Cordina
10:53 Bartolo explicitly calls for the public financing of political parties, to free them from the clutches of businessmen.
John Paul Cordina
10:52 Lofaro suggests that educators could play an important role in a bid to change the country's mentality.
John Paul Cordina
10:50 Bartolo says that he hopes that things can change for the better, but a huge effort was required.
John Paul Cordina
10:49 The minister states that when it came to major projects, Cabinet discussed the generalities, but not the details.
John Paul Cordina
10:47 Bartolo insists that he was not alone in piling the pressure from within.

But an unimpressed Lofaro remarks that changes only took place after civil society went out to protest. The minister contests this assertion, however.
John Paul Cordina
10:46 Comodini Cachia questions whether Bartolo was referring to Keith Schembri when he mentioned a "shadow government" running the show. The minister confirms this is the case.
John Paul Cordina
10:45 Bartolo adds that while many things were brought up in Cabinet, "these things" were never discussed.
John Paul Cordina
10:42 The board asks about the persons involved in trade deals, specifically bringing up the hospitals deal.

Bartolo said that when the National Audit Office issued a damning report on the Vitals concession earlier this month, it was the first time he was made aware of certain details, as he had said in Parliament.

He insisted that the persons involved in the hospitals deal and in the Electrogas deal were not brought up in Cabinet.
John Paul Cordina
10:41 Asked to elaborate on when he said that "this is not the end of the story", the minister states that he was speaking on a complex situation that would inevitably continue to develop.

He insists that had he known more, he would speak up, and that he was not referring to any specific suspicions that he had.
John Paul Cordina
10:39 Comodini Cachia asks Bartolo to elaborate on when he spoke about murderers being protected.

The minister replies that in his opinion, there was the need to strengthen the murder investigation to pursue all leads and bring all those involved to justice, and in doing so, ensuring no one is shielded from consequence.
John Paul Cordina
10:37 On the protection offered to Caruana Galizia, Bartolo said that he had heard about it on the media, and that he also heard that she had turned the offer down.
John Paul Cordina
10:36 Said Pullicino asks Bartolo on Muscat's assertion that he ha a "żrara fiż-żarbun," but Bartolo says it would be best to ask Muscat personally.

The former Chief Justice once again reminds that Cabinet shared collective responsibility.
John Paul Cordina
10:34 Said Pullicino asks about the decisions Cabinet took in reaction to the assassination.

Bartolo states that a lot of changes have taken place since January, but the former Chief Justice interjects to highlight that he is aware of that: he wants to know what happened after the assassination.
John Paul Cordina
10:33 He states that one of Malta's largest limitations was that it could not bring in police from other parts of the country as larger countries could do, and that consequently foreign entities such as Europol and FBI needed to be brought in. Such external help is crucial in the investigation of such cases, he argues.
John Paul Cordina
10:32 The board asks about Cabinet's reaction to the assassination, and Bartolo says that they were shocked by the news.
John Paul Cordina
10:32 Bartolo states that it is important for the Commissioner to do a stock-take. Some matters certainly needed to be pursued further, but it was not up to him to tell the Commissioner what they were.
John Paul Cordina
10:31 He admits that he believes that a number of things have been swept under the rug, and states that now was the chance to turn over a new leaf properly.
John Paul Cordina
10:30 The minister appeals to the Police Commisioner to carry out a serious analysis on where the investigations into the assassination have led, and see that issues that have been unaddressed so far are dealt with.
John Paul Cordina
10:29 Bartolo recalls that Caruana Galizia had once been his student at the University of Malta, where he taught journalism.

He describes her assassination as an atrocity.
John Paul Cordina
10:28 Bartolo is asked about the measures implemented by the government in the wake of the Panama Papers leak, and about any measures to protect Caruana Galizia.

He states that as far as he knows, the minister responsible had offered her a security detail, stating that this information was in the public domain.
John Paul Cordina
10:25 Bartolo said that in a Cabinet meeting last November, the eyes of many had been opened to the reality, including his own.
John Paul Cordina
10:25 He reiterates that he has made his position on this case public a number of times.
John Paul Cordina
10:23 Bartolo states that he respected protesters, and argues that he chooses to protest from within.

He notes that he has been in politics since 1992, and that he always chose to work from within and that this was a more difficult path.

One had to be careful not to compromise their chances of bringing about a change, the minister argues.
John Paul Cordina
10:22 Lofaro highlights that last November, then-PM Joseph Muscat had received unanimous support in a confidence vote among government MPs. She wonders what would have happened if someone abstained or even voted against him.
John Paul Cordina
10:21 Bartolo's approach again appears to frustrate Said Pullicino, who emphasises that the inquiry seeks to determine any shortcomings that exists.

The former Chief Justice and Ombudsman states that someone needed to tell the inquiry the truth, and that everyone needed to assume their responsibilities.
John Paul Cordina
10:18 Bartolo states that those who launder money and enjoy the fruits of their corruption are not bothered by the possibility of going to Court and waiting for 13 years for the case to be concluded. He states that new legislation needs to be introduced to reduce the delays involved in bringing such people to justice.

He adds that he hopes that Malta learns its lesson and implements the necessary changes.
John Paul Cordina
10:17 The minister states that no one would take Malta seriously if it relied solely on administrative measures. He questions why no one was arraigned over the Panama Papers, and insists that this should not have happened.
John Paul Cordina
10:14 Lofaro sarcastically remarks that no one seems to know anything.
John Paul Cordina
10:12 The minister also states that civil society had done well to protest during that period, stating that everyone had a part to play in bringing about change.
John Paul Cordina
10:12 Bartolo states that he joined others last December in pushing for a change, but the board adds that a lot of things needed to be done for a change to happen.
John Paul Cordina
10:11 But again, Said Pullicino remains unimpressed, noting that as far as the public was concerned, it appeared that nothing was done.

Bartolo said that he had told them they must leave, but they chose to stay put.
John Paul Cordina
10:10 Bartolo says that he spoke to Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi personally, and also brought up the matter during Cabinet meetings. This was what he meant when he said he did his best.
John Paul Cordina
10:09 Comodini Cachia brings up another of Bartolo's social media posts, and suggests that the Minister should declare what he meant when he claimed that he did his utmost.
John Paul Cordina
10:07 But Said Pullicino appears to be frustrated with Bartolo, stating that he should say everything, or else "it's useless for us to come here."

The inquiry board also advises Comodini Cachia to be careful about the question she made, as the inquiry had reached "a certain level."
John Paul Cordina
10:06 Bartolo states that he is not anti-business.

He adds that he had been clear that the influence Keith Schembri exercised over Cabinet was negative. One could not concentrate so much power in the hands of one person; it was neither beneficial to the country nor to the Labour Party.
John Paul Cordina
10:06 The board also points out that Bartolo was very vague on what he wrote, and states it is impossible that when he made certain declarations, he had no specific individuals in mind.
John Paul Cordina
10:04 Bartolo insists that he could only answer for what he is directly responsible, but Lofaro stands firm by her assertion that Cabinet has collective responsibility.
John Paul Cordina
10:03 The minister insists that he did its utmost, but the board does not appear entirely convinced.

Said Pullicino maintains that the government and Cabinet had a responsibility to help the inquiry.

Judge Abigail Lofaro states that Cabinet is collectively responsible.
John Paul Cordina
10:01 Defending himself, Bartolo insists that he always voted against people facing corruption allegations.
John Paul Cordina
10:01 But Said Pullicino adds that in other countries, when such corruption allegations surface, public figures resign.
John Paul Cordina
10:00 The board concurs about the need for Malta to carry out an examination of its conscience.
John Paul Cordina
10:00 When he was Minister for Education, Bartolo reveals, various people called asking for favours, including scholarships as well as changes in examination grades.
John Paul Cordina
09:58 He recalls how years ago, he was invited to eat rabbit at the home of a businessman, where a number of prominent lawyers were present. He states that he went once and no longer, and that the guests were discussing property issues.

He states that at this dinner, he realised that Malta had two Cabinets: one that met in Castille, and another that met on yachts.

He adds that he personally feels that Malta should carry out a national examination of its conscience, insisting that politicians as well as others needed to do so.
John Paul Cordina
09:57 Bartolo says that from an early age, one of his greatest concerns about Malta was its small size.

This small size, he states, brought about a "dangerous incest," and could cause a degeneration of society.
John Paul Cordina
09:56 Bartolo says that he had warned of the harm that could be caused to the country as a result of the documents.

The board states that it recognised that within the government, he had been the only one who actually brought up certain corruption concerns.
John Paul Cordina
09:55 Bartolo highlights that the government had a public facade, but there was also work behind the scenes.
John Paul Cordina
09:53 Bartolo refers to a speech he delivered in Parliament on 4 May, 2016, in which he reacted to the Panama Papers.

He had said that it was not acceptable for public figures to open secret overseas accounts.
John Paul Cordina
09:52 Said Pullicino continues quoting from the same tweet, stating that Bartolo appeared to be concerned about friendships and networks that should not have happened.

He said that the board is aware that Bartolo was identifying a number of shortcomings.
John Paul Cordina
09:50 Former Chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino quotes a tweet Bartolo had made last December, in which he brings up the Panama Papers.

Bartolo says that he was referring to tax evasion, stating that this was the main takeaway he took from the Panama Papers leak.
John Paul Cordina
09:47 The inquiry board clarifies that the inquiry did not concern the assassination itself, but administrative issues, in a bid to identify whether any shortcomings could have allowed the murder to happen.
John Paul Cordina
09:45 Comodini Cachia now asks Bartolo to elaborate on internal procedures.

Bartolo states that in his six months as Foreign Minister, he only authorised ambassadors – and no one else – to speak on Malta's behalf with other countries.
John Paul Cordina
09:44 Comodini Cachia highlights that it is alleged that Gafà had gone to Libya to negotiate on behalf of the government. She questions how such an action would be coordinated.

Once more, Bartolo states that whatever Gafà may have done, it was not on the direction of his ministry.
John Paul Cordina
09:43 Comodini Cachia presses Bartolo further on the matter, however, prompting Bartolo to state that he would verify whether any orders concerning Gafà had been issued by his ministry or any other.

He states that he is aware that the information required by the Court could be obtained from the Home Affairs Ministry, and not the one he is responsible for.
John Paul Cordina
09:42 Bartolo adds that he had no need to carry out any checks on Gafà because he had no intention of using his services.

He emphasises that he considers himself responsible for checking on the background of any person working with the ministry.
John Paul Cordina
09:42 Bartolo insists that had he any further information, he would be providing it in Court.
John Paul Cordina
09:40 Comodini Cachia asks the minister to verify any documentation concerning Gafà, and whether Gafà had any diplomatic passport.
John Paul Cordina
09:39 Bartolo says that after the first incident involving Gafà, he was shut out of the ministry. He adds that he could not respond on matters which did not fall under his ministry's remit, however.
John Paul Cordina
09:38 Speaking on negotiations with Libya, Bartolo says that since he has become the minister responsible for foreign affairs, he has made sure that Gafà would not be involved.
John Paul Cordina
09:37 The minister is asked to elaborate on the role Neville Gafà played within his ministry. Bartolo denies Gafà had any role.
John Paul Cordina
09:36 Minister Evarist Bartolo is asked to give his testimony.
John Paul Cordina
09:35 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, who is appearing for the Caruana Galizia family, presents a number of documents, including one which highlights what Daphne had faced 10 days before her assassination.
John Paul Cordina
09:35 The inquiry board enters the hall.
John Paul Cordina
09:34 Good morning.

We're inside Hall 20, where the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is set to continue.
John Paul Cordina