Craus does not recall taking Schembri and Theuma’s photo

Sandro Craus
Photo by: Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Head of Government Customer Care Unit Sandro Craus could not recall whether he took the photo featuring disgraced then-OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Melvin Theuma, the go between Yorgen Fenech and the three suspected hitmen.

Craus and Newsbook.com.mt Editor-In-Chief Sylvana Debono appeared before the board of public inquiry on Tuesday.

The Head of Government Customer Care Unit did not recall whether Schembri had instructed him to call up Theuma. Excerpts of Theuma’s testimony were quoted in court on Tuesday. Craus played it down saying that Theuma’s name became important only later and the OPM would receive several requests from individuals requesting a meeting. Theuma was one of the many who had come along at the time when there were rumors that an election was going to be held soon, Craus told the board.

Craus also told the board that he got to know about the 2017 election like everyone else, when disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced it.

His testimony on Tuesday contained many instances where he said he could not recall or he did not know when asked about certain posts he had written on Facebook. He was asked about a post he wrote on Facebook on the 4 December 2017 raid on the alleged hitmen. Craus had written about the operation while it was still in progress. The post was posted on Facebook at 11.37am and is still publicly available. Craus told the board that he did not recall writing about the operation.

Keep Calm. Our institutions know what they are doing Ten persons arrested in a Police, AFM and MSS joint operation in…

Posted by Sandro Craus on Monday, December 4, 2017

The public inquiry is tasked with among other things determine whether the state did all it could to prevent the murder.

Judge Michael Mallia is chairing the board which is composed of Chief Justice Emeritus John Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are assisting the family.

Dr Ramona Attard, a former communications aide at OPM, assisted Craus.

15:02 Thank you for following us.
Monique Agius
15:01 If the court marshals find Konrad Mizzi, he will be summoned to testify before the board on Friday.
Monique Agius
15:00 Superintendent Keith Arnaud is set to testify tomorrow at 9.30am.
Monique Agius
14:59 The deputy registrar says that the board has received an email.

Gaerty has informed the board that he did not receive the government fiat.
Monique Agius
14:59 DeBono steps off the stand.
Monique Agius
14:56 Dr Azzopardi: Has IĠM made any requests to the government for protection against SLAPP?

DeBono: Minister Zammit Lewis had told us that we are covered by EU law.

Dr Azzopardi: In reality, are you covered?

DeBono: I wouldn't know the exact details.
Monique Agius
14:53 "If in Malta, someone is dragged into a SLAPP lawsuit, the person or the institution in question, would be decimated," DeBono tells the board, following a question by Dr Azzopardi on the effect of SLAPP lawsuits on Maltese journalists and media houses.
Monique Agius
14:51 The law still allows a person to request a garnishee order on a journalist, Dr Comodini Cachia explains, saying that at committee stage this proposal was refused.
Monique Agius
14:48 DeBono tells the board that IĠM has met the government over SLAPP actions and would like to see the government do something about it.

She says that during the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, Turab Musayev was mentioned. Musayev through his lawyers informed the newsrooms that he would be considering taking further action. She underlines that some newsrooms received a letter which indicated that he was willing to take action.
Monique Agius
14:46 Dr Chares Mercieca enters the courtroom speaks to the deputy registrar and leaves.
Monique Agius
14:44 DeBono is asked about government advertising.
Monique Agius
14:39 Media houses also receive advertising from government.

"One of the biggest threats to media is advertising," she explains, adding that sometimes they received reports that an advert would cost €100 but its cost is inflated to €1,000 and the media house would provide 'puff pieces' alongside the adverts.
Monique Agius
14:37 "The government has a media fund due to coronavirus. Those who applied for it would receive it. There are different tiers covering online, TV and radio," DeBono explains to the board after she is asked about financial assistance media houses gets.

Chief Justice Emeritus says that this should not be the way funds are administered.
Monique Agius
14:36 DeBono says that following the assassination, there a sense of community had developed among local journalists.
Monique Agius
14:35 "What Daphne Caruana Galizia did, and which was unique, is that she did investigations without the backup of an institution," DeBono tells the board.
Monique Agius
14:32 "Journalists are believed a little less than politicians," DeBono says, adding that she differed from the statement that there were no serious investigation prior to Caruana Galizia.

She mentions an investigation during the time she worked for il-Gens.
Monique Agius
14:30 DeBono is asked whether any journalists have filed reports about being threatened.

She tells the board that as a media house there was a journalist who was threatened and a police report was filed. The police investigated the case, and the perpetrator wanted to apologize.
Monique Agius
14:28 Asked about discrimination between media houses, DeBono recalls when Muscat gave comments to four media houses and not Newsbook.com.mt. She adds that to the credit of this administration, the current OPM head of communications does reply to questions sent.
Monique Agius
14:27 "Until last year, the IĠM was receiving from Tumas Foundation," DeBono says, explaining how the IGM used to receive funding and ties were severed following Fenech's arrest.
Monique Agius
14:26 Judge Mallia: What sort of funding does IĠM have?

DeBono: A begging bowl.
Monique Agius
14:25 DeBono explains that what she has in mind is based on the Ofcom model.

The Ofcom is the regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. It regulates the TV and radio sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate. Ofcom works with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
Monique Agius
14:21 DeBono suggests a Journalist Ethics Commissioner parallel to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. At present there is a press ethics committee with IĠM. The press ethics committee is appointed by the IĠM itself.

"We want the press ethics committee which is independent from the government, and this committee is empowered to revoke your press card. At present the committee can only reprimand a journalist," DeBono says.
Monique Agius
14:19 DeBono tells the board that they will be working on it.

"The Media and Defamation Act is not enough, it's good but not enough. It needs an overhaul. The laws are legacy-media oriented. We need a broadcasting authority, yes, as currently composed, the BA is not wide-enough to represent the whole society. The two parties do not represent the whole society. Society is composed of more elements," DeBono says.
Monique Agius
14:18 Chief Justice Emeritus refers to a recommendation by the Venice Commission and access to information. He asks if the IĠM is working on it.
Monique Agius
14:17 "FOIs requests are notoriously impossible to achieve," DeBono says.
Monique Agius
14:17 DeBono suggest a tiered-approach for FOIs.
Monique Agius
14:15 Judge Mallia: With regards, the public corporations do you find cooperation?

DeBono: "bil-mewg". It depends. The biggest headache are requests under Freedom of Information. FOIs is where information goes to die. It takes too long and the story then becomes a non-story.

The board is surprised.
Monique Agius
14:14 DeBono tells the board that there are journalists who would refuse to cover certain stories fearing repercussions.
Monique Agius
14:12 DeBono tells the Board that she had received a call from a low-grade government employee full of expletives after she reported on a PQ and was threatened with funding.
Monique Agius
14:11 DeBono tells the board that independence is cultivated within one's self. She adds that funding is the sword of Damocles for media houses.
Monique Agius
14:11 "We don't have staff, we barely have premises. There is a room courtesy of MEUSAC," DeBono says.
Monique Agius
14:09 DeBono tells the board that they are the current board would like the IĠM to be a standalone stakeholder and not dependent on the person who is leading it.
Monique Agius
14:08 Madam Justice: Have you discussed the issues with the government?

DeBono: We had a cordial meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela, Minister Carmelo Abela and Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and we discussed the issues which the media is facing.
Monique Agius
14:07 Madam Justice: What can IĠM do to prevent another assassination?

DeBono: IĠM does not have such resources. Not even the police were able to prevent the death.
Monique Agius
14:06 DeBono explains that the plans for IĠM are for the institute to become a trade union.
Monique Agius
14:05 "No," Debono tells the board, after Madam Lofaro asks whether the IĠM can offer protection to journalists.

"The only institution which could do this is the police," she says.
Monique Agius
14:04 She explains the role of IĠM after the board asks about IĠM's strength.
Monique Agius
14:03 DeBono is also the President of the Institute of Journalists (IĠM).
Monique Agius
14:02 DeBono works at Beacon Media Group and Newsbook.com.mt. She has been Newsbook's editor-in-chief for the past four years, but was at RTK before.
Monique Agius
14:01 Newsbook.com.mt Editor-in-Chief Sylvana De Bono takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
13:59 "There are no photographs of his children. This is a misrepresentation. There is a photograph of him eating, he may be possibly bothered by the way he appears in it," Vella says.

The blog post is this one: https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/06/course-chris-cardona/
Monique Agius
13:58 Corinne Vella takes the stand. She's fact checking Cardona's statements.

The first one relates to: https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2013/03/meanwhile-chris-cardona-goes-out-of-his-way-to-prove-that-girls-and-poles-are-not-his-only-interest/

"This is really a post about his role as Economy Minister," Vella said.
Monique Agius
13:58 Dr Azzopardi: Do you recall putting a like on Gafa's post saying "Who is hiding Caruana Galizia's laptop?" Do you understand that this happened after the assassination and its implications that the laptop belonging to a car bomb victim was being hidden?

Craus: I don't feel I should reply to such questions.

The question is rephrased, "as a public official do you feel you should have liked such posts?", Craus once again says he would not reply.

Madam Lofaro: We'll take the answer for what it is.
Monique Agius
13:53 Dr Azzopardi: Do you know what "where is the laptop referred?"

Craus: Yes. But you as a person involved in politics understands when someone puts a like on such posts.

Dr Attard: Are we limiting Craus' freedom of expression?
Monique Agius
13:51 Craus categorically denies that a meeting was held on this campaign, adding that he is put off by hate speech and certain posts on social media.

Dr Azzopardi points out that they're not discussing hate speech.

"If there were such instructions, I'd have been the first one to disagree and the first one not to take part in it," Craus says.
Monique Agius
13:51 Dr Azzopardi says he will ask about "Where is the laptop?" campaign.

Craus says that before he did not link the questions, and later understood.
Monique Agius
13:50 He insists that he does not remember taking the photos.

Madam Justice Lofaro highlights that the witness is not denying.
Monique Agius
13:47 Dr Azzopardi: We're talking about a period close to before the snap election was announced. Do you exclude that Keith Schembri had instructed you to call Theuma?

Craus: If the chief of staff asks you to do so, you do it. I don't recall.

"There were rumors of an election. Many people were coming around asking the government. You do remember the protests," Craus says. [Ic-caqiqa tal-elezzjoni, nies bdew gejjin bl-addocc, bdew jitolbu lill-gvern, taf kemm kienu qeghdin issiru protesti.]
Monique Agius
13:47 Dr Azzopardi reads out from Theuma's testimony when state witness told the court that Yorgen Fenech had called him up and told to wait for a call from Craus.
Monique Agius
13:46 Craus earlier told the board that he got to know that the snap election on 1 May, like everyone else.
Monique Agius
13:45 Dr Azzopardi asks the witness whether he had written any posts condemning the assassination.

"I never wrote anything," Craus says.
Monique Agius
13:43 Dr Azzopardi asks about the atmosphere at OPM the day Caruana Galizia was assassinated.

"Kulhadd kien inkwietat inkluz jien, kulhadd kien ixxukkjat. Dik l-atmosfera li rajt. Jien wiehed minnhom li hassejt dawn il-feelings ukoll. Meta tidhol fil-politika inti tidhol biex taqdi n-nies," Craus says.
Monique Agius
13:41 Craus confirms that he was appointed as director on Malta Med-Air's board in 2018. At the time Minister Konrad Mizzi was minister.

Dr Attard intervenes: "this is not relevant to the terms of reference of the inquiry!"

Madam Lofaro asks whether he was close and how he knew him.

"Due to the nature of my work, I knew Mizzi as a minister as I knew the rest," Craus says.
Monique Agius
13:40 Dr Azzopardi takes over the question.

Craus: Mhux qed narak.

Dr Azzopardi: M'int titlef xejn.

Everyone in the courtroom chuckles.
Monique Agius
13:40 Madam Lofaro refers to a call he received from Lovin Malta in connection to the story and asks why he did not take action.

"I was worried about my reputation and I sought legal advice. There are varies inquiries about the case. I didn't take legal action against Theuma due to this," Craus says.
Monique Agius
13:37 Madam Lofaro reads out from Theuma's testimony and adds that he had said he won't resign.

"We've met a lot of people. It is difficult to remember detail," Craus says.

"This is a special case," Judge Mallia remarks.

"It is only special now. We're talking about three years ago, and Theuma was just a name," Craus says.

"I knew who he was. He had proceedings before me," Madam Justice Lofaro hits back.

"It is like Joe Borg, etc. It was just a name," Craus reiterates.
Monique Agius
13:35 Madam Lofaro: Do you know that Theuma testified that he received a call from you. Is Theuma lying under oath?

Craus: Yes I know he testified so.

Madam Lofaro: Is he lying? Did you call him?

Craus: I don't know. I call hundreds of people.

Madam Lofaro: You either deny or you don't remember. Choose.

Craus: I don't remember.
Monique Agius
13:34 Craus tells the board that his superiors did not speak to him after the story broke.
Monique Agius
13:33 "When someone approaches us for work, we send them to JobsPlus. As OPM we don't have a place where we can employ people," Craus tells the board.
Monique Agius
13:32 Craus tells the board that he is not on police bail in relation to the investigation on Theuma's phantom job.

He is given permission by his lawyer to reply to the questions relating to the phantom job.

Craus says that he did not know Theuma and was one of the many who'd come for work. He says that it is being *alleged* that they took a photo together.
Monique Agius
13:30 Madam Lofaro points out that the witness said that he knew nothing about what they are asking and now it transpired otherwise.

"I'm not here to say untrue things," Craus tells the board, "It's in your hands," Madam Justice Lofaro.

"I now have to assume that you forgot and not that you lied under oath, right?" Madam Justice Lofaro says.
Monique Agius
13:28 Dr Attard intervenes and asks the board to show him copies of the post. Judge Lofaro says that she's reading out for him. She tells the lawyer "I've understood well", remember he is testifying under oath and whether he would like to testify another time so that he can prepare himself and check on his Facebook.

Dr Attard says that they've been deleted.

The board disagrees and from their research it shows that they are available.
Monique Agius
13:25 Madam Justice Lofaro refers to the "Where is the laptop?" Campaign again. Craus says he does not recall.

Craus: We're speaking about years ago?

Madam Lofaro: Years ago?

Craus: Yes

Madam Lofaro: Sorry, ta' kemm ghandek zmien?

Craus: 50

Madam Lofaro: 50, and already forgetful?
Monique Agius
13:25 Here's another post Craus had posted in 2017 and which Madam Justice Lofaro referred to: https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2017/04/prime-ministers-personal-secretary-wants-government-grind-halt-stop-reporting-i-know/
Monique Agius
13:24 Craus says that he did not know Yorgen Fenech and has never seen him at Castille. He explains that his office is at the back and he wouldn't see people coming in.
Monique Agius
13:23 Madam Justice refers to his comments saying that he was clearly mocking Daphne Caruana Galizia in his post.
Monique Agius
13:21 Judge Mallia: Where did you get the information about the raids on the hitmen on 4 December 2017 while the operation was still underway?

Craus: I don't recall writing about it.

Judge Mallia reads out "Sandro Craus himself this morning stated the “operation (is) still in progress”. Let’s see what comes of it. Let’s hope justice is done and is seen to be done. That’s what we have been asking for all along."

Craus: Where are you reading from?

The board is referring to this post which is still publicly available here: https://www.facebook.com/acraus/posts/10215009821029176
Monique Agius
13:20 Judge Mallia: Have you heard about "Where is the laptop? Campaign"?
Craus: No
Madam Judge: I don't follow politics and I heard about it.
Craus: No.
Monique Agius
13:17 Chief Justice Emeritus says that he finds it difficult to believe that the witness did not discuss Panama Papers.

Madam Justice Lofaro points out that he had said that he only posted one post, when there are more. Looking at printed screenshots, Madam Justice Lofaro is reading out posts Craus posted on his timeline at a fast pace.
Monique Agius
13:17 Asked about posts he wrote on Caruana Galizia, Craus says that he had regretted posting such posts and removed them after some days.
Monique Agius
13:15 Board of inquiry: Have you read the blog by Bedingfield or the Facebook posts by Gafá?
Craus: No. I'd see them but not that I was interested. I was more interested is seeing individuals satisfied. [Kien iktar jinteressani li nara l-individwu moqdi.]
Monique Agius
13:14 "With my staff, of course, obviously I discussed it with my staff. It was a national issue," Craus tells the board when asked for his reaction to the Panama Papers reveal by Caruana Galizia.

He says that he did not discuss the issue with Schembri, Muscat or Glenn Bedingfield.
Monique Agius
13:13 Craus tells the board that he would not read Caruana Galizia's articles.

"I didn't really have time to read her blog. I would go to work at 8am and leave the office at around 9-10pm. You must understand after the government change, everyone used to turn up at OPM," Craus says when the board asked him if he read the blog or commented about her articles.
Monique Agius
13:12 "I was a candidate," Craus tells the board when asked if he knew Schembri before 2013.
Monique Agius
13:11 He would rarely contact with Schembri often on these issues.
Monique Agius
13:10 Craus explains that his office is on the first floor with his staff. The office of the Principal Permanent Secretary is on the first floor, followed by the office of the Prime Minister on the second floor and communications are situated on the third floor.
Monique Agius
13:09 He explains that first they would look at the CV. "Some of them are illiterate. We help them draw up their CVs," he explains, adding that they would inform them when they don't qualify.
Monique Agius
13:08 "I generally meet with individuals who the prime minister has no time for. Usually people with housing issues, people with employment issues mainly dealing with transfers, people with issues on benefits,' Craus tells the board.
Monique Agius
13:08 Craus was a private secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and used to take care of customer care, the witness replies to a question by Judge Mallia.
Monique Agius
13:07 Sandro Craus was appointed to head of customer care in 2014. In 2013, he was employed in the OPM's secretariat.
Monique Agius
13:06 Sandro Craus takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
13:05 Dr Azzopardi informs the court that Dr Comodini Cachia is currently in another courtroom before Madam Justice Anna Felice.
Monique Agius
13:04 A lawyer representing the state advocate's office informs the board that with regards to the application filed by Police Inspector Kurt Zahra, the state advocate is will not reply.
Monique Agius
13:03 We're in session.
Monique Agius
13:03 Sandro Craus who is being assisted by lawyer Ramona Attard, is in the courtroom.
Monique Agius
13:02 Good afternoon, and welcome to this live blog.
Monique Agius

In December, Melvin Theuma, the go between murder suspect Yorgen Fenech and the three alleged hitmen revealed that a few days after arranging the price for the assassination, Fenech called him in order to tell him to expect a call from Craus.

Craus had informed Theuma that he had a meeting with disgraced then-former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. This was his first-ever visit to the Office of the Prime Minister.

After Schembri greeted Theuma on the steps of Castille, he took him inside to one of its halls where the pair took a photo together.

Theuma was then given a no-work government job with the Family Ministry within the Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Company.

The government had initially said that there was no record of Theuma’s employment, but the contract was later published in the media. Theuma was sacked after around four months. The government then said that Theuma was employed through ‘a public call’.