Keith Schembri, the prime minister's chief of staff, said on Monday afternoon that he had reluctantly been forced to drop a libel case he had instituted against Simon Busuttil, because testimony there would have impinged on his fundamental rights in the context of magisterial inquiries also requested by the former opposition leader.
Mr Schembri said he had instituted the case on April 1, 2016 over statements made by Dr Busuttil. This was well before the revelations about (secret company) 17 Black were made, and the case therefore had nothing to do with it.
Mr Schembri pointed out that in a hearing on October 16, 2017, Dr Busuttil had refused to declare that he was involved in any wrongdoing, as he had alleged for years.
The chief of staff said that he was surprised that Dr Busuttil in Monday morning's sitting had not objected to the fact that Magistrate Victor Axiak had previously served as legal adviser to the Kasco Group Ltd of which he was a director and remained a shareholder. The magistrate had also declared that he had worked for Nexia BT, the auditors of the Kasco Group.
Despite the lack of objection by Dr Busuttil, Mr Schembri said he agreed with his lawyers that they should ask for the magistrate's recusal so that when the court took its decision, justice was both done and seen to be done.
The magistrate subsequently refused to recuse himself and also turned down his requests to stop testimony which could prejudice procedures in magisterial inquiries requested by Dr Busuttil.
It was in view of these facts and on the basis of advice by his legal team that he had, reluctantly, dropped the libel case. He had felt that the procedures could end up harming his fundamental rights in the inquiries.
Mr Schembri stressed that he is already replying to all questions put to him in the inquiries.