No one demanded a stop to a multi-million bank guarantee to Electrogas when the issue reached cabinet level, former deputy prime minister Louis Grech told a public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia on Friday.
Grech said despite discussing individual concerns "no one drew a red line, saying ‘no, this must not be done'".
He was fielding questions about the controversial power station project, described by one of the judges on the inquiry board as the "cavallo di battaglia” - flagship pledge - of the Labour Party during the pre-election campaign.
Grech said that his only involvement in the project was when the issue of the bridge loan facility agreement was presented to cabinet. Although concerns did exist, measures and safeguards had been taken and “no one had drawn a red line.”
He did acknowledge, however, that if the guarantee had failed, “it would have been problematic.”
Asked by the board's chair, Judge Michael Mallia, about his relationship with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech, Grech said that he had only met the businessman once. This was when Fenech accompanied an English investor to a meeting about a Valletta project.
His position as Electrogas shareholder emerged later.
The guarantee in itself was “above board,” Grech said, adding that if the process was subsequently found to have been vitiated, then “each must answer for his own acts.”
'Power tempts greed and greed tempts corruption'
Asked about the general impression of “too much closeness” between businessmen and politicians, with particular reference to the “business-friendly policy” adopted by the Labour administration, Grech again said that there must be 'a red line'.
“Power tempts greed and greed tempts corruption,” he said.
As for political decisions, Grech stressed that once taken by cabinet, a decision became a collective one, irrespective of whether “you agreed or not” and responsibility was shouldered collectively too.
“There appeared to have been no kitchen cabinet and if there was, I was not aware,” he went on, explaining that a kitchen cabinet would dominate items on the agenda.
“That certainly was not the case.”
“Speaking for myself, I never tolerated any interference in my ministry,” Grech, said, adding that if Finance Minister Edward Scicluna had been ordered to fork out funds, “that was his experience.”
Those who did wrong had to answer for their actions, but “a hundred opinions and hundred perceptions did not translate into one ounce of truth,” Grech said.
'Keith Schembri had too much power'
Keith Schembri, like all chiefs-of-staff, had too much power, the former deputy said, adding that he would go directly to the Prime Minister rather than through his chief-of-staff.
“There was a time when we didn't get on well,” he added, referring to Schembri.
He recalled how government projects would be approved in principle by cabinet, believing that all was in line with the policies outlined in the political manifesto, and later discover that there was more to it.
“The devil is in the detail,” he remarked.
Grech firmly denied any involvement in the Electrogas project - from the evaluation stage to discussions with the consortium, drafting of the request for proposal and the selection process.
“Besides what was discussed in cabinet meetings, absolutely nothing," he said.
Panama Papers affair 'not acceptable'
Grech also acknowledged that the Panama Papers affair was “not acceptable,” and had “definitely been a set back for our administration.”
All the good done by a Labour government “had been derailed by the Panama affair,” he rued, saying that the revelations had been discussed in the parliamentary group, evoking mixed feelings.
He said that while Brian Tonna of Nexia BT had been a director on a catering company of one of his children, he had never asked Tonna about the offshore structures set up by Konrad Mizzi and Schembri, “and he did not speak to me about that.”
He had never seen Fenech at Castille, Grech replied to a direct question by the board.
Nor did he share any chat with Schembri and Joseph Muscat.
After the car bomb explosion that killed Daphne, Grech had called the then prime minister.
The murder cast a dark shadow over the country, sparking disbelief, grief and so many other emotions, he said, stressing that the murder was non-acceptable and justice had to be done.
Facing a final round of questioning by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Grech said that he had continued to attend cabinet meetings until January of this year.
Some weeks before May 1, 2017, when the election date was announced, Grech had twice discussed the prevalent atmosphere of uncertainty with Muscat, who had been pondering an early election in view of public protests and economic uncertainty.
It was a while later that Muscat had told Grech, “I have decided on the date.”
The inquiry continues on Wednesday.
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