Parliamentary Secretary for citizenship Alex Muscat told the board of inquiry that he had told disgraced then minister Konrad Mizzi and then OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri that they should come clean on their Panama structures following the reveal.
Taking the witness stand on Friday morning, Muscat testified during the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is tasked with, amongst other things, determining whether the state did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.
Muscat who for a period served as Schembri’s deputy, told the board he knew the latter pre-2013 but got to know him in his professional capacity following the 2013 election.
The parliamentary secretary served within OPM secretariat as policy coordinator prior to serving as a deputy chief of staff.
Asked about consultancies he carried out for Nexia BT, Muscat said that he did not seek any permission from his superiors since he was employed as a person of trust.
The Inland Revenue Commissioner Marvin Gaerty also took the witness stand. He clarified that the message he sent to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech and for which he was questioned by the police was related to a VAT issue. Gaerty said that the contents of the message were identical to an email he had sent Fenech through his work email.
During the sitting, it transpired that Gaerty was yet to receive a list of individuals and organisations for which he would seek dispensation from the prime minister prior to investigating them and presenting evidence in the proceedings. The list was given on Friday to the Tax Commissioner’s lawyer.
The next sitting is on Monday when former Economy Minister Chris Cardona is expected to testify.
The next sittings are on Monday at 1pm and Friday at 9.30am.
A tentative date is given, Gaerty will be summoned again on Friday 20 November.
Lawyer Vincienne Vella appeared for the Tax Commissioner. She was given the list of people about which Gaerty will seek to obtain the PM's dispensation to give information and testify.
"I knew beforehand about the issue [17 Black], and had they wanted to speak to me about it, I would have never attended any meetings," Gaerty asserts.
Dr Azzopardi asks the witness whether Fenech's lawyers had asked for a meeting after it was revealed that 17 Black was owned by Fenech.
"Absolutely not related to 17 Black. What I can say is that it was a VAT issue," Gaerty tells the court.
Gaerty says that the meetings were not related to 17 Black.
Gaerty says that he had met Fenech and with his lawyers at his office. One of the meetings was held at his lawyers' office because of the number of people present.
The tax chief says that the contents of the message are identical to an email he had sent to him through his work email.
Gaerty says that he had a 10-15 minute informal meeting with the police regarding a message he had sent to Yorgen Fenech.
Whether the prime minister has given full dispensation with regards to the different individuals and companies, and in case where dispensation was refused, the witness should have the grounds on which it was refused as well as in cases of restrictions this should be flagged.
Dr Comodini Cachia explains that the witness should inform the court:
There was a misunderstanding and the court's deputy did not forward the list to the witness.
Dr Comodini Cachia says that the list had to be sent by court officials. Gaerty needs to obtain clearance from the prime minister first to be able to investigate the listed individuals.
Gaerty says that he has not received any lists. He is accompanied by the department's lawyer.
Judge Mallia asks him whether he has brought the evidence regarding a list of individuals, he had to investigate.
Marvin Gaerty is called to the witness stand.
We're back in the courtroom.
The media is asked to leave the courtroom as the proceedings will continue behind closed doors. We will back at 11am.
The board issued a decree on the third application by Fenech saying that it has already issued a decision on a similar application thereby that same decision applies for this application.
State Advocate representative declares that he will submit to the board's decision.
Muscat steps off the stand.
"We had major cases in this country that did not reach this stage. I think that as a country, it was an important development," he adds.
Asked about Theuma's and Fenech's arrests, Muscat says: "I was shocked at the facts coming out at the time, but I also felt that justice was being done in this country."
Dr Comodini Cachia: not even WhatsApp?
"I knew him as an individual but never communicated with him?" Muscat says.
Muscat says that he never met Yorgen Fenech and that he never communicated with him.
He says that this was why he had given them his opinion.
Madame Justice: Had you been satisfied with their statements, you wouldn't have spoken to him?
The parliamentary secretary says he got to know that the Panama Papers reveal was true because both Mizzi and Schembri had issued statements on the offshore structures.
Muscat says that he never had a copy of the FIAU report and had only read conflicting reports in the media.
Schembri was involved in the organization PL mass events pre-2013, Muscat recalls.
Muscat would only attend meetings in which he would be given work.
Asked about his role with government, Muscat says his role was to help with coordinating national projects between various ministries. He would be delegated work by Schembri.
"The structures were used to damage the government," he remarks.
Dr Comodini Cachia refers to his previous reply about "coming clean", she asks why he had said this.
"I didn't change my opinion on Nexia BT because as far as I know, Nexia BT's accountants did nothing illegal," Muscat says.
Asked about Nexia BT's involvement in setting offshore structures for Mizzi and Schembri, he says that this became known when the information was published.
Muscat says that he did not ask for permission to carry out consultancy work for Nexia BT since he was a person of trust.
Dr Comodini Cachia takes over questioning, with Dr Lia objecting saying that it is not relevant to the terms of reference of the public inquiry.
When asked if was he aware of its closeness to government, he says that he knew that as an audit company it had a lot of work with government, as did others.
The witness says that he was aware that Nexia BT had a lot of work.
Replying to questions by the board, Muscat said that he had no retainer.
"Had I had a conflict of interest, I would have declared it," he says.
That work was carried out before I was elected MP, he adds, adding that someone had advised him not to declare the income but he still decided to list in.
Muscat who graduated as an economist, had carried out consultancy work for Nexia BT.
"I definitely saw Tonna once or twice at OPM waiting room," Muscat says.
Asked whether he knew about the December raid, Muscat says that he got to know from the media. Similarly, he did not know a priori about the arrests of Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech.
The witness says that he had never been present for meetings with other businessmen. He would meet with public officials.
He says that he had seen Fenech perhaps once in the waiting area. But he could not tell if Fenech had more meetings at OPM, explaining that there are more entrances to the offices without having to pass through the secretariat.
Muscat says that he only got to know from the media about murder suspect Yorgen Fenech's relationship with Schembri.
He says that he never discussed the FIAU report Schembri.
Muscat is now asked about the FIAU reports.
Dr Lia interjects saying that it has nothing to do with the public inquiry, claiming that it was merely out of curiosity that this was being asked.
The board presses the witness to tell what he had told Schembri.
"Jien ghidtlu dak li kelli nghidlu," Muscat says.
Following a few more questions, Muscat says that he had told Schembri and Mizzi that "they should come clean on it".
Muscat says that he did not ask Schembri following the Panama Papers reveal.
"Upon my return, I found what I had expected. A sense of great shock," Muscat says.
Muscat was abroad when investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed. He explains that he was part of a delegation and it was a PN MP on that same delegation who informed him about the assassination.
"As far as I know, it was never led by OPM," he replies.
Judge Mallia asks whether the process leading to the selection of Electrogas was vetted by OPM.
The former OPM deputy chief of staff says that he did not replace Schembri during cabinet meetings when the latter was away.
The presentation was done by Konrad Mizzi, it was a "political strategy" to all general elections candidates, Muscat recalls.
"The power station project we were given a high-level project, as a political strategy. Prior to 2013 election," Muscat remarks.
Muscat says that the Electrogas project fell under the Energy Ministry headed by Konrad Mizzi. He says that he was never involved. Muscat explains that OPM employees were never given a presentation on the project.
Judge Mallia asks what was the involvement of the office in major projects.
Muscat was a Mosta local councillor and a general election candidate. He explains that he would work at a district level but was not working at CNL.
Muscat became active within the PL at 2007.
Muscat knew Schembri before 2013, he knew him as a person who worked within PL. He got to know him professionally.
Muscat says that he would not normally accompany Schembri to meetings.
In a reply to a question by Judge Mallia, Muscat says that for day to day decisions he could take such decisions, other times they would take decisions jointly.
In 2013, he was employed as policy coordinator. Eventually he was employed as deputy chief of staff with Keith Schembri as his boss.
He was employed at OPM from 2013 until January 2020.
Muscat was elected to parliament in 2017. He confirms that in the past he was employed within the OPM's secretariat.
Muscat takes the witness stand.
Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat walks in accompanied by his lawyers Ramona Attard and Pawlu Lia.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are in the hall.
Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We're live from courtroom 20.
Muscat was elected for the first time to Parliament in 2017. He had served as the OPM’s deputy chief of staff during that year.
On Wednesday, Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini took the witness stand and chose to remain in absolute silence.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are assisting the family.