‘The chief of staff has power that goes beyond his role’ – Former Deputy PM

L-eks Deputat PM Louis Grech dieħel il-Qorti / Ritratt: Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued this morning. The public inquiry has to determine whether the state did all it could to prevent the assassination.

12:07 That is it for today. Thank you for following us.
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12:06 The next sitting is on Wednesday 16th at 9:30 am. Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne is expected to testify.
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12:05 Louis Grech's testimony ends here.
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12:05 Lawyer Azzopardi again asked why was the MOU signed with CCCC when at the time the MOU was signed the company was already blacklisted.

Grech replied that it should never have been done.
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12:00 He also said that the Ministry he was responsible for never gave direct orders to Brian Tonna's company.
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11:55 Is it possible that the allegations concerning Nexia BT were never discussed in cabinet meetings? asked Azzopardi.

Louis Grech replied that it does not mean the allegations are not true but in politics, you so get used to false allegations that you question if the said allegations are fabricated or not.
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11:53 The board said that the allegations on Egrant were very serious and would have expected the Police Commissioner to immediately start investigating.
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11:52 When asked if Egrant was discussed on a cabinet-level. Grech said that he is not sure if it was discussed in the parliamentary group.
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11:48 Azzopardi now mentions 'China Communications Construction Company.'

Grech confirms he signed an MOU with the company. The MOU was on a bridge.

He confirmed that the due diligence was conducted after the MOU was signed.

Azzopardi asked why was it signed when the company was blacklisted.

Grech said that negotiations had stopped after through the due diligence they found out it was a blacklisted company.
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11:45 Azzopardi mentioned that this company had to be registered in the British Virgin Islands.
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11:44 Grech said no.
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11:43 Have you ever heard of the company name Macfinn? asks Dr Azzopardi
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11:38 "Have you ever asked Joseph Muscat why he does not remove Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri?" asked Lawyer Jason Azopardi.

The board notes that the question was already asked and the witness already replied.

Grech said e had no problem in again answering the question. He then said that he had informed Muscat about his position and they did not agree on the matter.

The board notes how after all it was a political decision by Joseph Muscat not to remove them.
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11:37 Grech said that it has been months since he last communicated with Joseph Muscat.
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11:35 "Post-June 2017 did you understand why projects Malta fell under the Ministry for Tourism?" asked Lawyer Jason Azzopardi.
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11:34 When asked what was the reason Muscat gave him on the decision to call a general election in June 2017, Grech said that Muscat told him that the reason was economic as due to the protests that were taking place economic instability was on the rise.
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11:31 "After Daphne was killed, it was not only a shock but it was unacceptable. There was sadness and anger." said Grech
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11:30 After the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia Louis Grech said that he had called Joseph Muscat after he addressed a press conference.
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11:28 Grech said he did not a whats app group chat with Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri.
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11:27 Azzopardi is referring to the decision taken by the Labour Government to remove all the permanent secretary except for 2.

Grech said it was a government decision and from his end, he decided that the permanent secretary within his Ministry should not be removed.
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11:25 From what Caruana Galizia had published on the power station, it was a 'done deal,' said Azzopardi.
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11:24 Azzopardi is referring to a specific blog published by Daphne Caruana Galizia.
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11:22 Azzopardi asks if, during the mentioned press conference, Azerbijan was mentioned.

Grech replied no and that he was not part of the delegation which went to Azerbaijan to discuss the energy project.
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11:21 At the time his concern was to make sure if the project is viable or not, said Grech.
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11:20 Lawyer Azzopardi mentions how on the 9th of January 2013 he, Louis Grech, was delivering a press conference with Konrad Mizzi to explain the power station project.
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11:17 During the time he was deputy leader of the PL he did not work with Keith Schembri.

"I knew Keith Schembri after I was deputy leader" – said Grech.
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11:16 Grech said that Muscat had called him when e was in Brussels to inform him that he wanted him to be involved in the electoral campaign.
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11:14 Azzopardi asks if Muscat, at the time when he was Opposition leader, had informed him why he asked Anglu Farrugia to resign from deputy PL leader.
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11:13 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is now asking questions.
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11:13 Louis Grech said that he was not involved in the process.
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11:12 The board started to ask questions on the Vitals concession agreement.
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11:12 We are back in session.
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10:55 The board of inquiry has ordered a 5-minute break.
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10:51 Asked if he was comfortable with the decision that Konrad Mizzi was responsible for certain contracts in view of the Panama Papers scandal, Louis Grech said it was the Prime Minister's prerogative.
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10:48 "The thing is that the Ministry I was responsible for and where I was involved, had nothing to do with all this" – Louis Grech.
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10:46 He said that he always wanted to serve one term in Parliament and that is why he did not seek to get re-elected in 2017.
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10:45 Asked about the Montenegro deal, Grech said that it was not discussed at Cabinet level as it was a matter that concerned Enemalta.
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10:42 Asked if he ever met with Chen Chan, who was acting on behalf of the Chinese company in the power station deal, Grech said that if he recalls well, yes, he met him once.
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10:41 Grech also said that he did not know what Brian Tonna's role at Castille was.
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10:40 Grech said that it was not him who introduced Brian Tonna to Joseph Muscat.
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10:38 One of the actions was that he demanded all contracts government signs should be of public domain.
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10:37 Louis Grech is mentioning the actions taken by him following the Panama Papers scandal.
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10:35 He denied being a business partner with Brian Tonna.
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10:34 Grech says he never spoke to Brian Tonna regarding Panama Papers.
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10:31 Madame Justice Lofaro mentioned how Grech wanted the resignation of Konrad Mizzi after the Panama Papers were revealed.

Louis Grech said yes.
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10:30 "I had spoken to Mizzi personally regarding Panama Papers. He always said that he did nothing wrong," stated Louis Grech.
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10:29 "Panama Papers were a set back for the former administration. It derailed all the good work it had been done," said Grech.
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10:28 The board said that if the necessary action was taken at that time, things would have not escalated as they did.
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10:26 Grech said that he was not present in Parliament when a motion of no confidence in Konrad Mizzi did not get through in Parliament.
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10:25 Louis Grech said that the Panama Papers were unacceptable and that he told the administration that it will have serious repercussions on Malta.
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10:23 The board noted how when the Panama Papers were revealed he was still the deputy PM.
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10:20 As a consultant to former PM Joseph Muscat he was not advising Muscat on the govt energy project, said Grech.
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10:18 Madame Justice Lofaro asked Grech if it worried him that the consortium needed a guarantee, Grech said yes and that is why questions were raised.

Louis Grech continued to explain that at the time 'we did not know that the company had serious financial problems' – said Grech.
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10:17 Asked about the bank guarantee given to the consortium Electrogas, Louis Grech said that he cannot rely on opinions or hearsay.
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10:14 He said that met once Yorgen Fenech when he visited him with a foreign businessman and they wanted to discuss with him aspects related to Valletta. The meeting was unrelated to the power station, said Grech.

"I found out that Fenech was a shareholder in the Electrogas consortium after the process was finalised.
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10:13 When the board asks if he thinks there are allegations which need to be investigated, the former deputy PM said yes.
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10:09 The person responsible for the building of the new power station was Konrad Mizzi, who at that time was the Energy Minister.
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10:08 Asked about what used to happen on the 4th floor at the PL's headquarters, he said he only went upstairs twice. His office was on the 3rd floor.
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10:06 Louis Grech said that he once was only involved in a presentation during the electoral campaign in 2013 when the advantages of the PL's policy on energy was being explained – if he recalls well the presentation was conducted by Konrad Mizzi.
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10:05 Grech said he was not involved in the evaluation, in the discussions, in the selection process and not involved in any other stage.
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10:04 The board of inquiry is asking questions on the power station project.
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10:03 Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino is asking Louis Grech if there were times when policies which were more business-friendly.
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10:00 Louis Grech said that Keith Schembri had power but did not give him trouble in his work.
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09:58 "Too much power concentrated in one person" – said Madame Justice Lofaro.
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09:55 "I have seen this happen in Malta and in other countries," said Grech.
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09:54 The board asked what was the role of Keith Schembri.

Grech said that any Chief of Staff even abroad has great power that in his opinion go beyond their role.
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09:52 Grech continued saying that instead of the kitchen cabinet there might have been an operational team that was influencing/using the government.
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09:50 Grech said that the Ministry he was responsible for was not involved in the kitchen cabinet if there was one. He also said that he cannot rely on what someone might have informed the Finance Minister on the 'kitchen cabinet.'
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09:47 The aim of the kitchen cabinet is to set the agenda of the cabinet and its intention is to remain secretive, explained Grech.

He also referred to what Prof. Edward Scicluna, Finance Minister, said during his testimony when he mentioned the 'kitchen cabinet.'

He admitted that every government is faced with pressure from powerful businessmen.
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09:46 "If there was a kitchen cabinet, I did not know of it and I was not part of it" – said Louis Grech.
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09:45 Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino said that it appears that certain decisions used to been taken by people close to the administration but not by the cabinet.
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09:44 Grech said that he knew Keith Schembri in 2013 during the campaign for the general election.
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09:43 Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino said that until now the board hasn't understood to its fullest how the former administration under the helm of former PM Joseph Muscat used to work.
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09:42 "We expect to get the full background" – said the board.
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09:41 The board explained that it needs to understand how the former administration used to function.
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09:39 Grech said that he was also responsible for the Ministry for European Affairs and Implementation of the Electoral Manifesto.
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09:38 He was also a PL MEP.
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09:37 The board asks former Deputy Prime Minister to state when he started to get involved in politics. Grech said in 2004.
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09:35 Louis Grech has entered the courtroom. He takes the witness stand.
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09:31 The board of inquiry has entered the courtroom.
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09:29 Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi, and Peter Caruana Galizia are assisting the family.
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09:29 The board of inquiry is chaired by Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia and composed of Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madame Justice Abigail Lofaro.
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09:26 Former Deputy Prime Minister, Louis Grech who was a consultant to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, is expected to testify today.
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09:26 Today's session is expected to start at 9:30 am.
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09:25 We are live from courtroom 20.
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09:25 Good morning and welcome to this live blog.
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During the last sitting, on Wednesday, former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar insisted on the need to gather the evidence before questioning a person of interest.

Appearing for the second time before the board of inquiry, Cutajar maintained that he could not question anyone before evidence was collected.