Apap Bologna had proposed gas fired power station project to PN

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former Partit Nazzjonalista Secretary General Paul Borg Olivier testified during the public inquiry proceedings on Wednesday afternoon. Borg Olivier told the court that in 2009, he was approached by Paul Apap Bologna who had proposed a gas fired power station project around the same time a tender was issued for a new power station.

Journalists also testified in the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Highlights

  • Paul Apap Bologna had approached Partit Nazzjonalista in 2009 proposing a gas fired power station project which had great similarities with the project that was carried out by a PL-government
  • Paul Borg Olivier told the board that he was annoyed at a remark by Apap Bologna, ‘the decision is yours, we will do our bit if you do yours.’
  • Christian Kalin from Henley and Partners had also approached PN, but the party had said that Maltese passport sovereignty was not up for discussion
  • Journalist Caroline Muscat testified about an investigation by The Shift News into state sponsored trolling
  • Journalists from Newsbook.com.mt testified on the incident at the Office of the Prime Minister when journalists were held against their will after an early morning press conference

The Board of Inquiry is composed Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, who is chairing the inquiry board, and two other board members, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia, Andrew Borg Cardona and Peter Caruana Galizia are assisting the family of journalist Caruana Galizia.

16:03 Thank you for following this blog.
Amy Borg
16:01 Today's court session ends here. Next sitting is scheduled for Monday at 2:30 pm. Josef Caruana, Matthew Carbone and Glenn Bedingfieled are expected to testify.

Neville Gafa will also be asked to testify. However, the board said until now the court did not manage to make contact with him.
Amy Borg
15:53 Monique Agius said that journalists eventually identified who were the people blocking the door not letting them leave the room; Mark Gauci and Ronnie Vella amongst others. Agius also said that its hard for her to watch the footage again because she feels she has been a victim of psychological violence.
Amy Borg
15:51 Agius explains how Paul Caruana Galizia, son of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, was asking the people who were blocking the door, why all this was happening. She also mentions that at a certain point in time the door was opened and saw Matthew Carbone – the person responsible for the communications office at OPM.
Amy Borg
15:50 Monique Agius presented to court footage taken during the time journalists were locked inside Castille.
Amy Borg
15:48 Xuereb also mentioned that after the press conference journalists were not allowed to leave the room and there were men blocking the door so that journalists could not leave. Xuereb says this was the only time she felt intimidated whilst doing her job. She also said she has filed a report.
Amy Borg
15:41 Miguela Xuereb who is a photographer and videographer for Newsbook.com.mt gave details of what happened after the press conference in Castille. She said that Journalists kept waiting outside and at 3 am were told they could go in. She said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had given details on why the presidential pardon was not granted to Yorgen Fenech.
Amy Borg
15:35 Monique Agius said that she has filed a report for both incidents.
Amy Borg
15:32 Monique Agius mentioned a particular instant during the MEPs election where she felt intimidated when asking the then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat if he would consider resigning. Agius also mentioned a particular incident when she was shoved by someone when trying to ask a question, outside Parliament, to the then Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri. This particular incident happened last year when civil society was organising protests outside the House of Representatives.
Amy Borg
15:31 Monique Agius and Miguela Xuereb from Newsbook.com.mt take the stand to testify.
Amy Borg
15:27 Newsbook.com.mt journalists were up next.
Monique Agius
15:22 'The calls linking the murder to oil smuggling came from the OPM in the first week after Caruana Galizia's death,' Muscat said.

Muscat had spoken to journalists who had reported with certainty that the death was to do with oil smuggling and they said that the calls had come from the OPM.

'Daphne and I became friends in the last year before she was killed. After the 2017 election something changed. We were all a bit in shock. Sometimes she was in doubt whether she should continue or not. In the days before she was killed, we were having a conversation over WhatsApp when she told me to go for lunch the following week.

Muscat said that Daphne Caruana Galizia had told her at the time 'I have a sense of time running out'.
Monique Agius
15:20 The person who posted the doctored photo involving Kalin is Tom Lippiett who claims to be a lawyer in Malta and works in an iGaming company.
Monique Agius
15:19 Asked by the board if they traced the source of these cyber attacks, Muscat said that one was traced to IP addresses in Ukraine, 'where they have factories of hackers who are paid to take sites down'.
Monique Agius
15:16 She had pointed that the law had changed, and all she got was that 'your email has been acknowledged'.

Dr Comodini Cachia asked about cyber attacks on the Shift News.

'We've experienced several attacks on our site. One of them has been reported to the Council of Europe platform, one of five unresolved by the Maltese Government. We have had to completely overhaul on how our site is hosted and now have different serves,' Muscat explained.

'The attacks were weekly,' she said. She added that these peaked on the Vitals and Streamcast investigations. These dealt with Konrad Mizzi's dealings.
Monique Agius
15:13 'When I show them my international press card, we have this really bad system where the government decides who is a journalist and who isn't. Just this week in an email conversation from DOI [Department of Information] where I am insisting to receive the calendar of events and I'm being denied,' Muscat told the Board of Inquiry.

'Why should I register with the DOI, we worked to change the law so why is there policy preventing us from accessing this information?'

Asked how she knew it was government policy she said 'I have it in correspondence with DOI'.
Monique Agius
15:10 Dr Comodini Cachia asked Muscat whether any reports were received and registered by the police.

One of the cases was when Henley and Partners threatened the Shift News with a lawsuit. The witness explained there was a photomontage of a MaltaToday masthead and a 'sponsored' post by the Shift News calling Kalin a murdrer. The Cyber Crime Unit had identified the perpetrator but no criminal action was taken against him.
Monique Agius
15:07 The witness went through the screenshots and highlighted that despite the reporting on such posts, nothing happened.

Muscat said that reports were filed with the police. She mentioned that there was a series of reports that they tried to file to the police.

'When we go to the police station we end up spending two hours justifying that we are journalists although we don't have a DOI press card,' Muscat replied.
Monique Agius
15:04 Muscat explained that when one gets this wave of disinformation, there was little that independent journalists can do to counter it.

'When it was mixed with hate-baiting of the handful of journalists who work on investigative stories you end up with one side dominating the narrative,' Muscat said.

In a reply to a question by Comodini Cachia, Muscat said that after Caruana Galizia was murdered, the dehumanising campaign against her continued. This spread to other critics of the government, targeting primarily Matthew Caruana Galizia. She highlighted that the question of 'where the laptop was or why was the car parked outside' were constantly being repeated – this diverted attention from where the latest scandal is.
Monique Agius
15:01 Dr Comodini Cachia asked the witness to go through the dossier presented to the board which includes a number of screenshots of posts.

'Online harassment ties closely to disinformation. What happens is that online channels are flooded with counter-narratives which are often blatantly untrue. One clear disinformation campaign is "The Truth Project". This was a campaign which countered the Daphne Project, it was clear a year after the assassination,' Muscat explained.

Such counter narratives included 'where is the laptop?' narrative, shifting of blame and claiming that the murder came from PN. 'These came out from the 'Truth Project'.
Monique Agius
15:00 The Facebook groups would go dormant and then resurface when there was political activity such as an upcoming election.
Monique Agius
14:56 Dr Comodini Cachia asked about state-sponsoring mass trolling and how did she conclude it was so.

Muscat explained that there were criteria which needed to be met; including past instances of threats to journalists or activists, the involvement of senior government officials, and a marked blurring of roles or propagandists. She cited a Bloomberg article which lists these criteria.

Muscat pointed out that President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, most MPs, aspiring political candidates, were all members of these groups.

Following The Shift News expose, Coleiro Preca announced that she was leaving the groups and then condemned hate speech in general. The former Prime Minister however had never condemned the group's behaviour, saying that they were not hate speech and only left them after a number of calls for him to do so, the witness said.
Monique Agius
14:55 Muscat pointed out that the Facebook group administrators worked in government jobs. Among those mentioned was then PL candidate Angele Camilleri (who is now a local councillor).
Monique Agius
14:51 Chief Justice Said Pullicino remarked that the witness was insisting that it was coordinated. Muscat explained that it was difficult to achieve the same result without coordination.

'These groups were celebrating Daphne's death. It was at that point that people got in touch with us and told us what was happening in those groups,' Muscat told the Board of Inquiry.

Muscat referred to the incident involving Tina Urso when the activist along with the Maltese diaspora in London had protested outside an event by Henley and Partners. She told the board that within hours all the details including the activist's home address were circulating on the groups and the hate campaign was set in motion.
Monique Agius
14:48 The witness explained how Facebook algorithms work.

'Josef Caruana, Tony Zarb, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Mark Farrugia, Rosianne Cutajar, Neville Gafa, Glenn Bedingfield. All of this was happening whilst Kurt Farrugia was heading OPM Communications,' Muscat said.

Karl Stagno Navarra was also active in such groups.

'What we see in these groups is constant counter narratives and the spread of blatantly untrue information. Malta is one of the few countries where we have managed to prove state sponsored trolling,' she further explained.
Monique Agius
14:47 The main findings were that online discourse in Malta was increasingly polarised and abrasive, there was involvement of government officials, online trolling was subject to a high degree of coordination, Muscat read out.
Monique Agius
14:41 Muscat said that one of the first things that the Shift had done after Caruana Galizia's murder was to observe a pattern of derogatory remarks relating to the murder.

The Shift had monitored for six months, six secret and closed groups online with a total of 60,000 members. For one to join such groups they would need to show their membership of Partit Laburista. She added that they did so through whistleblowers who were disgusted by the content of the groups.

Initially whistleblowers passed on information from the groups and then the journalists figured out how to join the groups.

'We wanted to see how Caruana Galizia was being presented. What we saw was beyond anything we could have expected. She was depicted as a witch and a monster.

'The dehumanisation campaign continued after her death,' Muscat said.

'People from the OPM such as Neville Gafa would share such memes,' the witness said.

Such posts were there for seven years and were built whilst the PL was in Opposition,' she said.
Monique Agius
14:38 Dr Comodini Cachia explained that the witness was summoned to explain harassment that she had suffered as a journalist.

Muscat explained that the Shift News was set up some three weeks after Caruana Galizia's assassination.
Monique Agius
14:37 The Shift News journalist and co-founder Caroline Muscat was summoned next.
Monique Agius
14:37 'I can also say that it is a bit of a misnomer to think of there being big donations, parties rely on the little donated by the many, at least in the case of Partit Nazzjonalista,' Borg Olivier concluded.
Monique Agius
14:35 'I cannot say that anyone gave me a donation which was aimed at compromising me or the party. What I can say is that the party's financing was such that a receipt was always issued, and that certain donations were done in the form of a cheque as well,' he explained in a reply to a question by the Board on party financing.
Monique Agius
14:30 Dr Azzopardi asked whether Apap Bologna had told him whether he had spoken to some government representative at the time.

Borg Olivier replied, 'No'. He highlighted that he was annoyed by the comment 'the decision is yours, we will do our bit if you do yours'.

The witness said that Christian Kalin from Henley and Partners had approached Partit Nazzjonalista at around the same time. Kalin had given them a document, to which the party had replied that the sovereignty of the Maltese passport was not up for discussion.
Monique Agius
14:28 'When one looks at the context of the decision in 2009 and the call by Partit Laburista in 2013 at the beginning of the electoral campaign, I felt that the person who came to try and sell the project to me had gone to sell it the Partit Laburista,' the witness explained.
Monique Agius
14:25 Judge Mallia asked about the Maltese families behind the project.

Paul Borg Olivier said that he was given indications of who were the families but was not told directly who they were.

The witness said that he had reported about the meeting but it stopped there since the government had its own energy policy.
Monique Agius
14:24 Dr Azzopardi asked about the outcome of the meeting requested by Apap Bologna.

The witness described the meeting as a "cordial" one. The line, Borg Olivier had taken at the time was that the government had its plan for energy.
Monique Agius
14:20 Dr Borg Olivier pointed out that the proposals in the presentation and the RFP, one found great similarities. The only difference, according to the witness, was the gas supply for 20 years changed to 18 and the power generation capacity of the power station.

He presented an article by Daphne Caruana Galizia on 25 October 2013.

He also presented a copy of an article published in the Malta Independent around the same time.

The witness presented a copy of an abridged version of the auditor's report on Electrogas in 2013 which highlighted a number of shortcomings. In paragraph 13.7 of its conclusions, it refers to former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil's listing of similarities between the contract and the presentation by GEM, but the Auditor General at the time said its mandate did not extend to political parties.
Monique Agius
14:17 Gasol was involved in the project. The project was presented as GEM (Greener Energy for Malta) holdings which was set up at the time in 2009.

One of the things written down on the presentation 'The decision is yours, we will do our bit if you do yours, when I asked about it, I was met with silence and a half-smile,' Dr Borg Olivier recalled.
Monique Agius
14:16 "What is interesting is that the presentation is that the power station is almost identical to the power station built later complete with LNG terminal, ship and everything," Borg Olivier told the Board.

The witness recalled that his first reaction to Apap Bologna's presentation was that of surprise since a tender was issued to build a new power station.

'My reaction in the brief discussion was that,' the witness said.
Monique Agius
14:13 Dr Paul Borg Olivier was summoned to the witness stand.

Dr Jason Azzopardi asked him about an incident in 2009. At the time, Paul Borg Olivier was Partit Nazzjonalista Secretary General (Between June 2008 and June 2013).

Paul Apap Bologna had asked to see Dr Borg Olivier, who had accepted the meeting. Apap Bologna had given me a power point presentation on a gas fired power station.
Monique Agius
14:11 Welcome, Newsbook.com.mt is reporting live from Courtroom 20. The Board of Inquiry just entered the courtroom.
Monique Agius