Michael Farrugia on Wednesday said he did not get himself involved in the details of police investigations when he was home affairs minister, telling an inquiry “my job was not to investigate”. 

“My role is to give police all the necessary tools, not to investigate,” Farrugia told an inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, recalling how he had arranged for Dutch forensic experts to fly to Malta on the same day she was killed. 

Farrugia was Home Affairs Minister between June 2017 and January 2020, serving in that role when Caruana Galizia was assassinated. 

He told the inquiry that he was always alone when being briefed on the case by the Malta Security Services. Whenever he was indisposed or abroad, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, or his deputy would take over. 

Farrugia said that while he “assumed” Muscat was being briefed separately, he
had no knowledge of those briefings or who attended them. 

“When he was present, I was not,” he said. “I hardly discussed the case with the prime minister but I assumed he was being briefed.”

In testimony that went on for more than two hours, Farrugia defended his track record as home affairs minister, described his former colleague Konrad Mizzi as politically naïve, argued that former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri “always gave sound advice” and said he knew nothing of the “kitchen cabinet” which Finance Minister Edward Scicluna had slammed when under oath. 

On Keith Schembri 

Farrugia told the inquiry that he considered Schembri a friend, recalling his help in getting housing projects off the ground when he served as family minister. 

“I cannot say we weren’t friends,” he said when asked about his relationship with Schembri. 

“I spoke to him to facilitate certain projects or push them through." 
Schembri would rarely speak up during cabinet meetings, Farrugia testified, though when he did so “he always gave sound advice”. 

On Konrad Mizzi 

Farrugia said that his former ministerial colleague Konrad Mizzi was “politically naïve” for having opened an offshore structure while in office.

He argued that Mizzi had paid a political price for that in 2016 when he was stripped of his ministerial portfolio in a reshuffle. 

Despite no longer being in charge of energy, Mizzi would go on to retain responsibility for "special projects". 

Farrugia recalled the prime minister meeting with all his ministers one by one following those offshore revelations, to get a sense of what they thought of the matter.

He said he had told Muscat that Mizzi and Schembri, who had a similar offshore structure, should “shoulder political responsibility”. 

“There were divergent opinions at the time,” Farrugia said, adding that Mizzi and Schembri were “friends, as far as friends go”. 

Controversial deals

The Electrogas power station deal piloted by Mizzi was very much needed by the country, Farrugia argued, as the energy sector was in a dire state when Labour assumed power in 2013.

He however said that he would be the first to demand action should any corruption involving it be revealed. 

Yorgen Fenech, the business tycoon who stands accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder, was a director at the Electrogas consortium until his arrest in November 2019. 

Farrugia told the inquiry that he had no particular insight into government deals such as the Electrogas one or the contract with Vitals Global Healthcare to privatise three state hospitals. 

Cabinet ministers would receive an overview of these projects and approve them in principle. But the details were handled by respective ministers and their permanent secretaries, he said.

Farrugia, who now serves as energy minister, told the inquiry that he only got to know about reports concerning a wind farm deal Enemalta struck in Montengro through the press.

Times of Malta revealed last June how Fenech's company 17 Black made millions off the deal. The revelations would lead to Mizzi being ousted from the Labour Party. 

‘My job is not to investigate’

Farrugia also told the inquiry that he did not get wrapped up in the details of police work during his time as home affairs minister. That applied to the Caruana Galizia case too, he said. 

“My role is to give police all the necessary tools, not to investigate,” he said, adding: "Especially after the prime minister had already made a public statement offering a reward for information leading to the case being solved”. 

Farrugia said that reward - €1 million - was the prime minister's initiative and he had nothing to do with it. 

On the ‘kitchen cabinet’ 

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna told the inquiry last month that Schembri had led a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors who ran the Muscat government from the sidelines. 

Farrugia distanced himself from that allegation, saying he was not part of an inner cabal and had no knowledge of it. Nor did he know whether Nexia BT director Brian Tonna had a desk at the Office of the Prime Minister, as has been alleged. 

The minister also told the inquiry that he was not among guests invited by Muscat to a birthday party held at Girgenti Palace in January 2019. That party was attended by Fenech.

On Yorgen Fenech

Farrugia told the inquiry that he barely knew Fenech. 

The two men had met once, at Fenech’s behest, Farrugia said. He was junior minister responsible for planning at the time. 

Fenech had wanted to discuss a land reclamation plan which his family business empire, the Tumas Group, was interested in exploring. That idea never got off the ground. 

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who appeared on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, asked the minister whether he knew anything of Fenech’s plans, hatched in March 2017, to replicate the Electrogas power station plans in Bangladesh.

Farrugia said he knew nothing about that. 

He vehemently denied ever discussing a change to a Planning Authority high-rise policy with Fenech, saying that anyone who alleged otherwise was lying. 

Visitor logs at the Office of the Prime Minister show that Farrugia met with Fenech on the same day that he instructed the Planning Authority to amend its high-rise policy to allow skyscrapers to be built in Mriehel.

The Tumas Group is among the companies building a high-rise in the area. 

On Theuma’s phantom job

Lawyer Azzopardi told Farrugia that the government official who had offered murder middleman Melvin Theuma a phantom government job, Anthony Muscat, had used a private Gmail account to do so. 

Farrugia was family minister at the time and Muscat fell under his remit. 

The witness reiterated what he had said when revelations about the phantom job first emerged: that he knew nothing about it and had never met or discussed Theuma with anyone. 

Muscat has reportedly told police investigators that he was ordered to give Theuma a job by Keith Schembri

Former Projects Malta chair testifies

Earlier in the session, the inquiry heard from former Projects Malta chairman James Camenzuli.

Camenzuli served as chairman of the committee responsible for selecting Vitals Global Healthcare as the winning bid to take over three state hospitals. 

In testimony punctuated by Camenzuli's lack of recollection, the witness told the inquiry that the Vitals bid was a "solid and concrete" one with significant financial and professional backing. 

He however told the inquiry that he no longer had a copy of the report the committee he chaired had drafted, said he could not recall who Vitals' shareholders were or who owned the company that owned it, Oxley Group. 

The financial aspect of Vitals' bid - the only one of three which satisfied RfP requirements - was assessed by Manuel Castagna and Robert Borg, he said. 

He was unable to confirm if the committee had verified whether the two failed bidders were decoy bids intended to present the illusion of choice. 

A National Audit Office report concluded earlier this year that there was evidence of collusion between the government and Vitals ahead of the bidding process and said the company's bid should have been disqualified. 

Inquiry term extension

At the start of the hearing, lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, representing the Caruana Galizia family, objected to the inquiry's term being extended to December on a non-renewable basis. 

The December 15 deadline would place undue pressure on the board and lawyers who had to handle voluminous evidence, prepare submissions and draw up a final report, she said. 

In a statement, NGO Repubblika echoed those concerns, saying the  one-off extension granted by the prime minister was "outrageous, unnecessary" and an attempt to hinder this procedure". 

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