Disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had fainted at event organised in October 2017, former economy minister and former Partit Laburista deputy leader Chris Cardona confirmed before the board of inquiry on Friday.
Cardona was summoned to testify in the inquiry looking into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia which is tasked with determining whether the state did all it could to prevent the murder.
Testifying on Friday, Cardona was asked about when Muscat fainted two days before Caruana Galizia’s assassination by lawyer Jason Azzopardi who noted that the event went unreported.
Muscat had fainted while attending a reception in a hotel. The witness confirmed the incident said that he held Muscat. He recalled that it was a Saturday evening. Muscat had told them that he had not eaten all day.
Cardona said he was not aware why the event was not reported. In 2014, Muscat was temporarily blinded after suffering radiation burns in both eyes during a party event in Zurrieq. The event was reported.
On Monday, Angelo Gafa is set to testify at 2pm.
On Wednesday, Joe Cuschieri is set to testify at 9.30am.
The board is fixing a date for the next sitting.
Cardona checks his phone, the last message he exchanged with Fenech goes back to 28 August 2019 and refers to the children's dancing classes.
CC: We had a work relationship. We used to meet regularly.
JA: It has been said time and time again, that your relationship was not good. Is it true?
CC: I did not know. I got to know later. She applied for a scheme and she did her summer work in one of the government's entity.
JA: Il-fulu's daughter was employed within your ministry in 2017. How did you get to know?
JA: In your testimony, you said that you still meet with Muscat…
CC: I still have the messages. I can check.
JA: Do you confirm that early last year you had asked Yorgen Fenech to meet for lunch?
Chris Cardona confirms that Muscat fainted two days before Caruana Galizia's assassination during an event le Meridian in Sliema. He adds that he held Muscat. Muscat had told them that he had not eaten anything all day because he had no time. Cardona does not know why the news was not made public.
JA: Has he invited at home?
JA: Hilton lobby?
JA: One of the Daphne Project stories was that you had attended a bachelors' party in 2017 where Alfred Degiorgio was present?
CC: They were wrong because I had attended the wedding not the bachelor's party. I assume he was also at the wedding.
JA: Where you at Stables bar and the Degiorgio's were also there?
CC: He had left the police after 25 years of service and was chosen after a call at the Freeport as a security guard.
JA: Was Chetcuti given a job at Freeport?
Anthony Chetcuti is a police man. He was in the SAG. Subsequently he was a security officer for high profile VIPs like the Pope and Angela Merkel. Subsequently, he left the corps and helped Cardona in his campaign.
He is asked about Toni l-Biglee.
CC: The Degiorgis brothers, never.
JA: Where you a lawyer for Vince Muscat il-Kohhu?
CC: I had appeared for him for bail. I don't recall the year. It wasn't the arraignment.
JA: Did you give him the release in May 2010?
CC: I don't recall.
JA: Do you know the Maksar brothers?
CC: I know them by sight. Actually I know Adrian Agius.
JA: In what year did he become the Degiorgio brothers' lawyer?
"I think my decision influenced the other's decision [in reference to Mizzi without naming him] I had announced immediately after Cabinet. Haddiehor ma ghamilx hekk," Cardona says.
He says that he spoke to both before the election of Abela.
"I had taken my decision to resign from parliament way before the leadership election," Cardona says.
Cardona says that he kept with his decisions although he had meetings with Robert Abela as Prime Minister.
CC: I would need to set up a room in court if I had to do this. I don't want to file any more libel cases and I have material to do so, even against public persons.
TCC: How do you justify not asking for the police to investigate all this? How did you not file libel cases?
"There were many stories of me of meeting with certain people and seeing certain people. There was an attempt by certain journalists to implicate me in the case."
"The reports of his meeting with the Degiorgios are lies," he says.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks him about remarks he made on Dissett aired on TVM where he said that he was a "victim of a frame-up".
Judge Lofaro: Didn't you follow up on it?
Cardona: How? From my house?
"This after the police excluded me from the investigation. I do have my suspicions on who is behind it. This letter was found in a place taken by a doctor from someone else to be given to someone else. A document like that, but it has been tampered with," Cardona says.
CC: Yes, I think it's even less.
TCC: In that period why did you reintegrate yourself if you felt you had enemies and that you were feeling betrayed?
CC: The Prime Minister had called me and invited me to a parliamentary group meeting at Girgenti. Muscat had told the cabinet members that he assured himself that I was not under investigation. Muscat had announced that I was reintegrated into the group.
TCC: You've mentioned your self-suspension, is it that period of 15-days?
"I don't have information. Gossip and hearsay are not evidence. There have been rumours spread by people in this courtroom," Cardona says.
Cardona: If I knew, I would have taken the necessary steps. I don't want to obstruct the ongoing investigations. I will do at an opportune time.
Comodini Cachia: Did you have enemies from the administration?
Cardona: In which forum? Can't the police investigate themselves?
Judge Lofaro: So you don't take steps?
Cardona: I'm still in time to take the necessary steps. The time will come.
Judge Lofaro: Why did not you insist on investigating the calligraphy?
"There have been a lot of hints in court that I am linked to the murder too," he said.
Cardona says he has a lot of ideas who was behind it.
Back to the letters passed to Fenech.
Cardona gets angry – he says that there should be evidence to prove the many claims against him, like his suicide attempt.
Asked why he did not file a libel suit after allegations made about him, Cardona says "After I issued the libels against Caruana Galizia, I will never file one again".
Cardona says that once he spoke to Caruana Galizia, she had asked him where I live. Cardona at the time was living at Fenech's apartment and Caruana Galizia went to look for him at Stables Bar in Valletta and spoke to him there.
Cardona: I block numbers that are not saved on my mobile and call persistently. I had anticipated that she would call I blocked the number because of a story then.
Dr Comodini Cachia: When you spoke about your relationship with Caruana Galizia you said that you had no relationship with her. Did you block her number?
"Journalists are not killed by people who go home after work to their families," Cardona says.
The interview was given to The Guardian about two months ago. He says that on the day, French journalists were also present.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks if he confirmed all that was reported in the interview with the Times of Malta, Lovin Malta and The Guardian.
Cardona says that he was among a group of people summoned but in the meantime the family had filed an application for Scerri Herrera to recuse herself from the case.
"I went once to the Police after activists stuck a criminal complaint and my number to the police headquarters. I called the police and left my statement. Once Lawrence Cutajar had called me and told me they need to speak to me for ten minutes. This was before the letter surfaced. Arnaud and Zahra were there and they spoke to me and I left my statement. Today I understand that this was related to the letters passed on to Fenech but I was not told then," Cardona tells the board.
Dr Comodini Cachia says that he was summoned by Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera on the day of the murder.
"When you inherit a country which is almost bankrupt, you work, work, work to achieve…" Cardona says.
"I personally did not feel betrayed by those who worked closely to me. Muscat had spoken about this, he had said that he felt betrayed. The sentiment is one which palpable."
Dr Comodini Cachia: Did the cabinet take a decision on how to counter her stories?
"Any government needs to give needs to give due attention to something like that. Daphne would do this continuously and regularly."
"And she used to dig and dig and dig into the stories," he says.
"The blogs were divided between attacks on the structures of the government and those on personal matters," Cardona notes, adding that the government stories would keep the government on his toes.
Dr Comodini Cachia reads out: " I mean she was one of the most vociferous opponents of our government. So she was, yes, one of the people who had to be watched, in the sense of critics. I mean any critic of a government has to be watched." from an interview he had given to the Times of Malta on 5 June 2020.
"When the Prime Minister had sent for me, I was only asked about my opinion on Konrad Mizzi," Cardona says.
"At the time, Konrad Mizzzi said that he had made a mistake and was stripped of his portfolio and his ministry. At that stage, I was still thinking that the mistake was ugly but it was borne of mediocrity and lack of forethought not malice," Cardona replies to a question by Dr Comodini Cachia.
Dr Comodini Cachia: Farrugia?
Cardona: Farrugia, who? Godfrey? no. It was Mizzi.
Dr Comodini Cachia: Who was minister when the VGH was being negotiated? Fearne?
"We were very careful on the wording used in the MoUs allowing enough elbow room for the government to maneuver. If things went south, the government would have an exit plan," he explains.
Cardona: I can give two examples. If it is a project related to health, the health minister would negotiate these agreements. Similarly I have signed educational MoUs which were then spearheaded by the education minister.
Dr Comodini Cachia: You said you had signed for the MoUs but you were not involved in negotiations. Who would negotiate?
He says that the work was not carried out correctly. Two more signatories were also added. All of this can be found in the NAO report he says.
On the VGH deal, he said a UK firm was engaged on carrying out due diligence work on those involved.
Dr Comodini Cachia asks about Fenech. Cardona reveals that at the start of his remit, the Malta Gaming Authority fell under his duties.
1.Cardona earlier said that Daphne wrote about his dog. However, it was used to reference him creating jobs for young people to avoid the Cyprus effect (economic/financial collapse).
2.Cardona said Daphne published photos of his children. However, there is no evidence to suggest she did.
Some fact checking of Cardona's claims:
Cardona would regularly be at OPM.
Cardona says that he would enter OPM through the main door and go directly to Muscat's office without going to Schembri's office. He confirms that if Yorgen Fenech was at Schembri's office he would not have seen him.
Cardona: No there are other ones.
Comodini Cachia: Was it the only one?
"Panama companies was a big political mistake," Cardona says that it is a clear example of a political and family decision.
"Whoever had made the mistakes must pay for them. This does not emerge from any book, it is the law. Whoever did unilaterally mistakes, has to pay for them unilaterally," Cardona says, adding that the person could not expect others to be held responsible for it.
Asked to identify who did the mistakes, Cardona says that he is keeping abreast of the developments but is not going to pronounce himself.
Dr Comodini Cachia underlines that she is asking political responsibility not legally.
Dr Comodini Cachia takes over questioning.
He knew Yorgen Fenech and would see him at activities which his younger children and Fenech's children attend to.
Cardona says that Silvan Fenech (Yorgen's cousin) had provided him with an apartment at Portomaso where he paid rent at commercial rates when he had marital problems.
"I knew Muscat and Schembri were friends and they went abroad together, but had no idea about their relationship with Fenech," Cardona says.
Cardona was not invited to the Muscat's exclusive birthday party at Girgenti. "Ask the person who issued the invites why I was not invited," Cardona adds.
"I had no idea Fenech, Muscat, and Schembri were friends," he reiterates.
Cardona has known the Fenech family for a long time. The two men only had lunch during their friendship. It was a business meeting about a dispute between commercial partners.
"There are people who try to solve problems with the law of the jungle. When you have a disagreement with someone you take him to court not put him in the grave," Cardona says.
The damage cause to him was a factor in his decision to leave politics.
Cardona says that many allegations have been against him – "there was an allegation that I put a pistol in my mouth, that I had attempted suicide, that I was admitted to hospital, that I made phone calls with people involved in the murder… but none of the allegations has been proven."
Cardona says that the time had come for Muscat to put national interest before his own.
"That person didn't care about implicating a minister and about the greater consequences that it could create," he continues, saying "imagine if the letter did not come to light and had made rounds between people who would have taken the stand. My position would have been very difficult."
Cardona reiterates that he does not know who wrote about the letter but he has his own ideas.
"There could be analysis on the handwriting," he says.
Cabinet members who were experts asked police if it has been sent for forensic testing. However, the letter has been tampered with.
Investigations are still on-going as Cardona is looking to take action against whoever wrote the letter.
Cardona doesn't know who wrote it. But says it was found at Fenech's apartment.
Cabinet members informed Cardona of the letter.
Cardona says that he had self-suspended from the cabinet.
Adrian Vella has confirmed that Schembri passed on notes to Fenech while the latter was under police bail.
Cardona is asked about the letters by Keith Schembri to Yorgen Fenech.
He explains that the garnishee order was his decision and against the legal advice of his lawyers because he wanted a "proportional" reaction to the reaction caused by the article.
Cardona is pressed on his libel suits and the garnishee order he placed on Daphne Caruana Galizia over claims involving his visit to a German brothel.
Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination was addressed at cabinet level before the Prime Ministerial statement in parliament.
"I was shocked. Without words," he tells the board.
He received a phone call confirmed her death.
"I think he had someone mentioned Bidnija I would have done 1+1," Cardona says. Before he also said that he is sure that Caruana Galizia was killed because of her work.
"Until we got to the office in Valletta we had only been told there was a bomb," he says.
Asked about he got to know about the murder, Cardona says that he was with Muscat in Sliema for an event. They were driving back when they passed through Sliema and he saw a breaking news of a bomb.
He says that he was even brought into the debate when she was criticising Adrian Delia. He says criticism towards him was far worse.
Cardona says Daphne Caruana Galizia would only write about his personal life.
Cardona confirms that Glenn Bedingfield was countering her work while working at OPM.
"No one sets up a blog to write about Antolisei's writings. She was populist," he says, adding that the writing degenerated.
"We could not find a person who could counter Daphne's stories," Cardona says, adding that she had a brilliant pen.
"It started long before the German brothel claims," he continues.
"As soon as I became a minister she started writing about me. She had written about me when I got a dog," he says.
"I didn't like that my children were going to school and people were calling their father a drug trafficker," he says.
He says that her death is macabre and should be admonished. However, he says she had her judgment on him that he was stupid, a drug addict, among other things.
He starts off with a preamble.
They ask for Cardona's current attitude towards the journalist, he once called her a populist who hated the Labour Party.
Asked about his relationship with Daphne Caruana Galizia. He says he never spoke to her in person or on the phone.
Cardona says that he voted in favour and that it was under the government's whip. "When you have a vote of confidence it cannot be a free vote," he says.
Judge Lofaro asks about any reservations to which he answers:
"Li kieku kont nitlaq [I would have resigned] as I did recently I could have stayed on no one could take my seat in Parliament," he adds.
Judge Mallia asks if he had voted in favour of Mizzi in the free vote.
"All I know about the controversial parts of the deal are what I heard the media," he says.
"He hit the ground running and was under pressure to deliver within the first six months," Cardona says.
"And was so knowledgeable about energy production," Judge Lofaro remarks.
Konrad Mizzi by profession is an engineer…. Judge Mallia start saying, Cardona intervenes "no,no. He had specialised in management."
"What I recall is that Konrad Mizzi was certain that the project would be successful since there was a similar project in other jurisdiction and this is not a test case," Cardona says.
"I was a bit surprised that there wasn't the shadow minister for energy there," Cardona says that a lot of time had passed since then.
Mizzi had given a presentation comparing HFO and gas, using infographics.
"I knew Konrad Mizzi since he was a child. I used to teach English at a school and he was a student worker there – he was 16 years old then. I am older than him and sometimes would give him lifts. Then I didn't see him for ages until I met him again in Balzan with his wife we did not speak about politics. Then he came along to present the gas-fired power station to the party. In my mind he was the expert that would run the show and not that he was a candidate. At that time, I had no idea that he would run for election and get a ministerial portfolio," Cardona recalls.
Cardona says that the snap election was a "political calculation".
He qualifies the use of the word "days".
He mentioned the protests which would jam hotel and retail.
Asked about the snap election, Cardona says that he got to know within days before it was announced as surveys showed that PL would win with a comfortable majority.
He used WhatsApp with Schembri and Muscat.
Cardona says that while he had his own WhatsApp chats he was not involved in the WhatsApp group Schembri, Mizzi and Fenech.
"Very close," Cardona says.
Judge Mallia asks about the relationship between Muscat and Schembri. "Was it close?"
Judge Lofaro points out that tax evasion is one thing but money laundering was another.
"I deemed it absurd to repeat the same mistakes," he remarks.
"I couldn't understand the reason behind setting up a Panama companies," Cardona repeats. "This was not the first leak… their was the Swissleaks and we all know what happened to the politicians involved," Cardona says.
Cardona says that when Panama Papers came out, Mizzi and Schembri had reacted to the news. They had issued press releases or held press conference and their general defense was that it was a politically naïve decision but they did not appear to have a criminal or malicious intent.
Judge Mallia asks Cardona what was his reaction to Panama Papers and the FIAU report about Schembri and whether he would still seek his advice.
The administration would be run by the permanent secretary. The Chief of Staff is above this, he explains. The chief of staff is an interlocutor and intermediary between ministries, if there is a challenge or problem, like a company going to make layoffs, the chief of staff would become involved, he adds, when explaining about ministries in general.
He disagreed with the board's suggestion that Schembri assumed powers of an elected politician.
"No to the contrary, I would approach him from advice. He would intervene in a positive way," Cardona says, adding that Schembri's "power" was proportional to his role. He describes him as "indispensable".
"Would he interfere with your role?" he is asked by Judge Lofaro.
Schembri would attend cabinet regularly. Cardona would discuss issues with Schembri regularly.
Cardona: Not that I know of…. I think … I think… he was appointed a board member of Smart City Malta… but I stand to be corrected.
Judge Mallia: Did Keith Schembri have any role in the leadership other than as Chief of Staff?
"I had an idea of Keith Schembri at university. I got to know him in 2012," Cardona says.
"In other countries people resigned of their free will too," Cardona remarks.
"The story remained an albatross around our neck… you'd launch a good project and the journalists would come and ask you about 17 Black," he adds.
"Yes" he says.
Did your opinion change post 17-Black.
"I say that at the beginning I agreed with the Prime Minister that they stay in place and not to move Konrad or Keith. My opinion was to give them some time… subsequently to haunt the government."
Cardona denies any knowledge of corrupt dealings with the Electrogas deal and others. He says he only found out about links to Yorgen Fenech through the media.
Panama Papers were "very worrying" he said.
Judge Mallia says that there were things – some proven others still allegations. The things were not done well. He mentions the owners of Electrogas and 17 Black. Asked how he found out, he says "from the media hux".
"I don't recall any disagreement within cabinet meetings whenever a national project was discussed," Cardona says. He adds that the final decision would be a collective one.
Cardona claims that they [those mentioning the kitchen cabinet] are just attempting to distance themselves from any issues.
"It is easier to say that now. It is more convenient," Cardona tells the board.
Cardona says that he was surprised when he heard about so-called kitchen cabinet, "because at the time no kitchen cabinets were mentioned, now they are coming out." At the time Muscat would be approved unanimously continues.
The Electrogas project was under Konrad Mizzi, he confirms.
"Electrogas was a project which us as politicians we would link with the reduction in energy tariffs. Then the media started to come out with stories which cast shadows on it and the matters would be discussed at cabinet, parliamentary group and the organs of the party," he explains.
He adds that the Electrogas project fell under the Energy Minister.
Cardona adds that when he summoned before the inquiry into the VGH deal he will repeat what he already told the NAO and this board.
"I am not under investigation in Malta or abroad about any project done during his time as a minister," Cardona says.
Cardona says that the only project he was to called to testify about was the VGH before the NAO.
"OPM is the heart, the most important organ in government," Cardona says.
He adds that probably the decision was communicated to him by the Malta Enterprise but in this case they would have informed the OPM.
Asked about an MoU signed five months before the RfP, Cardona says that he did not know that the RfP was going to be issued.
"It is not enforceable it is not a promise of sale," Cardona replies.
Chief Justice Emeritus notes that there is some element of commitment when signing an MoU.
He explains that the MoU is just an agreement to negotiate a contract and was not a binding document.
Carodna says that he did not participate in negotiations but signed as a representative of the government.
15 MoU were signed with private companies, confederations of foreign businesses, universities such as La Sapienza, VGH, Malta Development Bank, other joint ventures. There were more than ten memoranda of institutional nature meaning that the government had entered into agreement with Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, MCAST, and five were still being negotiated.
During his tenure as Economy Minister:
Cardona: Because I would sign all the government memoranda of understanding with foreign entities. The NAO had also asked about this.
Judge Mallia: Why did you sign it?
"The same applies to Electrogas," Cardona says.
He found out about the VGH deal at cabinet level.
The CEOs of Malta Enterprise during his tenure were Mario Vella, Mario Galea and Kurt Farrugia.
Cardona says that Malta Enterprise had a blanket policy to attack every possible industry. When he was in charge he changed to policy to microtargeting, targeting niche markets which made sense the investor. He adds that the modus operandi changed and instead of chasing investors, they attracted them to Malta.
Malta Enterprise and Projects Malta appeared to have overlapping interests, Judge Mallia observes.
Projects Malta never fell under his remit. He says that Malta Enterprise was under his remit all his tenure.
Cardona's legal advisor was Nadine Sant (now magistrate Lia). She had also worked at the Attorney General's Office, Cardona says.
"I would the technical presentations with myself with technical experts outside to answer questions, or if the issue was technical, the experts would do it themselves and I would make the political arguments and present the government's narrative," Cardona says.
Everybody would have their agenda which would be discussed.
In general Cabinet would have 12 to 15 items on the agenda, starting at 10 am up till 2 or 3pm. After cabinet, the prime minister would speak to some members about their portfolios.
Cardona says that he never missed a cabinet meeting.
He was elected in 1998, 2003, 2013, and 2017.
He had worked with Mark Vassallo, Shazoo Ghaznavi, Michael Grech in he same office. Cardona explains that this was more of a cost-sharing agreement.
"My wish was to work in that sector but because of politics I opened an office in Birkirkara and since then I have worked almost exclusively in criminal law," Cardona says.
He graduated in 1999. He was elected to parliament in 1996. He was doing legal practice with Dr Edward Woods. He graduated with a masters at IMLI on international commercial law.
Cardona is asked about his legal career.
He is cautioned but Cardona says that he wants to answer to all the questions by the board.
The inquiry into Vitals deal is already underway and is led by Magistrate Gabirela Vella but he has not been called to testify yet.
Dr Cardona says "yes", adding "tal-Vitals".
Judge Mallia asks whether he is the subject of an inquiry or proceedings.
He is administered the oath.
He gives his particulars to the board when asked.
Cardona takes the stand. He is assisted by lawyer Jonathan Attard.
Dr Comodini Cachia replies that she tried to gather all the information which could possibly indicate maladministration, adding that it is in the hands of the board to decide which are admissible or otherwise.
Judge Michael Mallia informs Dr Comodini Cachia that some of the questions submitted in writing to the board exceeded their terms of reference.
Cardona was spotted walking to court earlier on.
We're live from courtroom 20. Journalists and the lawyers appearing for the family are already here.
Good morning and welcome to this live blog.
A letter handed to the police by Fenech with alleged details of the murder plot had named Cardona.
The former minister has denied any wrongdoing.
Cardona’s resignation as deputy leader was first confirmed by Prime Minister and Partit Laburista leader Robert Abela. His resignation came after court testimony first implicated the former minister in the assassination. Cardona had initially refused to resign, with Abela later revealing that he had formally asked him to step down.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are assisting the family.