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.
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.
Gaerty has informed the board that he did not receive the government fiat.
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.
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.
"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.
Chief Justice Emeritus says that this should not be the way funds are administered.
She mentions an investigation during the time she worked for il-Gens.
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.
DeBono: A begging bowl.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
DeBono: IĠM does not have such resources. Not even the police were able to prevent the death.
"The only institution which could do this is the police," she says.
The blog post is this one: https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/06/course-chris-cardona/
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.
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.
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?
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.
Craus says that before he did not link the questions, and later understood.
Madam Justice Lofaro highlights that the witness is not denying.
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.]
"I never wrote anything," Craus says.
"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.
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.
Craus: Mhux qed narak.
Dr Azzopardi: M'int titlef xejn.
Everyone in the courtroom chuckles.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
Dr Attard says that they've been deleted.
The board disagrees and from their research it shows that they are available.
Craus: We're speaking about years ago?
Madam Lofaro: Years ago?
Madam Lofaro: Sorry, ta' kemm ghandek zmien?
Madam Lofaro: 50, and already forgetful?
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
Madam Judge: I don't follow politics and I heard about it.
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.
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.]
He says that he did not discuss the issue with Schembri, Muscat or Glenn Bedingfield.
"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.
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’.