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.
- 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.
Neville Gafa will also be asked to testify. However, the board said until now the court did not manage to make contact with him.
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'.
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.
'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'.
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.
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.
'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.
'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'.
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.
'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.
'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.
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.
Muscat explained that the Shift News was set up some three weeks after Caruana Galizia's assassination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.