No records kept for murder suspect meetings at OPM

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Office of the Prime Minister did not keep records of meetings then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat held with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech at the OPM during Muscat’s term in office.

No records of such meetings including minutes of meetings held from 2013 to 2017 between government officials and Fenech were kept, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said, after it filed a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. The foundation noted that documenting meetings is in the interest of transparency, accountability and good governance, adding that the failure to keep proper records raised concern that this was a deliberate act of omission.

Murder suspect Yorgen Fenech who stands accused of complicity in organising and financing the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had met at least 26 times from 16 October 2013 to 24 March 2017, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said. The foundation had filed a Freedom of Information request for information on meetings Fenech held at the Office of the Prime Minister.

The foundation said that according to an official response to a Freedom of Information request, several of the meetings which were held at the OPM were over an hour long and at least one meeting lasted three hours.

The response from the Office of the Prime Minister did not include any information about meetings Fenech had with then prime minister Joseph Muscat nor any information at all about meetings Fenech had at the OPM after 24 March 2017, the foundation noted.

A follow up complaint was filed requesting information about meetings held from 25 March 2017 to 18 November 2019, the day before Fenech’s arrest, and about meetings Fenech had with then-prime minister Muscat.

The Principal Permanent Secretary Office which is the official contact point for Freedom of Information requests relating to the Office of the Prime Minister, replied that there was “no additional information” besides that which had already been published in the original reply.

The Principal Permanent Secretary told the foundation that “this Public Authority does not hold the requested documents” when separate Freedom of Information requests for the agenda and minutes of the meetings Fenech held with specified OPM officials and staff members, and the names and designations of other individuals who were present at any point during those meetings were filed.

The foundation reminded that of the 26 known meetings the murder suspect had at OPM from 16 October 2013 and 24 March 2017, five were with then OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, 19 meetings were with former Health and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi who was responsible for public-private partnerships, one with Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia who was also parliamentary secretary for planning and one with Mizzi’s aide Lindsey Gambin. The foundation noted that on the day of Farrugia’s meeting with Fenech, the former had “ordered the Planning Authority to allow high-rise developments in Mrieħel”. Ths decision had enabled the construction of a high rise project by partners in the Electrogas project: Gasan Group and Tumas Group.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation noted that both Mizzi and Schembri have been implicated in corruption involving Fenech and his Dubai-based company 17 Black.

“Documenting meetings, including minutes of discussions and decisions is in the interests of transparency, accountability and good governance. The Office of the Prime Minister’s failure to keep proper records of the meetings with Yorgen Fenech raises our concern that this was a deliberate act of omission,” the Foundation said.