Updated 4.45pm, adds Mario de Marco's statement
The Nationalist Party will refund any funds it allegedly received from Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech but leader Bernard Grech said on Sunday he was not aware that any such money had been passed on.
The party leader was answering questions fielded by Lovin Malta’s Chris Peregin on the PN’s media.
The claim that the PN had received money from Fenech was made in court last year, when former chief of staff Keith Schembri, who on Saturday was denied bail over charges of money laundering and corruption, said that the PN used to send its head of media, Pierre Portellli, to collect €20,000 every month from Fenech.
Portelli had then denied that claim. He resigned from the PN's executive last month.
On Sunday, Grech said he was, so far, unaware of any monies handed to the party by Fenech and promised to take the necessary action if there was.
“If it results that money was passed on, we do not want that money," he added when pressed by Peregin to say whether he would return the funds if it transpired that the claims were true.
Grech also stood by PN MP Mario de Marco, whom media have mentioned as one of the lawyers who offered his services to Malta Enterprise at a time when Allied Group benefited from agency funding.
De Marco sits on the Strickland Foundation, a shareholder in Allied Newspapers.
Grech said he had immediately spoken to de Marco when the allegations surfaced, and it transpired that he was never a director of either Progress Press or Allied Newspapers and was, therefore, never involved in any decisions taken by the group. (See Mario de Marco's statement below)
Pressed on whether he was happy with Kristy Debono, Hermann Schiavone and Adrian Delia, and their close ties with Fenech, Grech again said he would take the necessary steps in case of verified shortcomings, and not on the basis of communication between the three party members and the alleged murder mastermind.
Grech said he would also grant self-confessed assassin Vincent Muscat a second presidential pardon to reveal inside information on three more major crimes.
Grech meanwhile questioned how comfortable PL MPs were with the allegation that Muscat, known as Il-Koħħu, had mentioned a “big job” involving former minister Chris Cardona as well as an unnamed sitting minister.
“How can the prime minister remain silent when faced with allegations about a sitting minister... Are PL MPs happy knowing that there is an implicated minister among them,” he asked.
Asked whether he would also grant Fenech a pardon, Grech's reply was that he might consider it only if there was no other way for the truth to come out.
Grech’s weekly Sunday interview follows the arraignment in court of Schembri and 10 others in a watershed moment in Malta’s recent history.
In a 14-hour day of police questioning and legal drama, 'unprecedented' cases of corruption and financial crime were unravelled in court on Saturday.
Asked whether this was proof that the institutions were working, Grech said that Saturday’s arraignments were the result of relentless efforts by Caruana Galizia and civil society, including former PN leader Simon Busuttil.
Busuttil had, in 2017, requested the magisterial inquiry that led to Saturday's arraignments.
Grech also gave merit to the judiciary and the police, adding that they had to continue to be backed up to be able to fulfil their duty and rid the country of corruption.
NET's audits to be filed in coming months
Asked about the finances of PN and its media, Grech said that while the party’s accounts were all in order, he was working on ensuring the same with NET’s accounts, which he said will be filed in the coming months.
He refused to quantify the party’s debt, adding that while expenses increased over the past months, so had income.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic had dealt a blow to the income generated through the party's media and clubs, which had been ordered to close to help curb the spread of the virus.
'Test Sicily arrivals for COVID'
Grech meanwhile blamed an “incompetent government” for the closure of businesses, including six family-run restaurants he knew of.
He called on the government to heighten COVID-19 mitigation measures at ports, adding that several people entering Malta, especially from Sicily, were only having their temperature taken.
What would PN do if elected to power?
Asked what would the PN would do if it was elected to power, Grech said the party would revise the Whistleblower Act to ensure that the granting of protection does not lie in the hands of a minister. It would also improve the way parliament functioned.
He would also ensure the implementation of an idea that the party was working on and that he was not yet ready to unveil.
A new PN government would meanwhile strengthen the fight against corruption, regenerate the economy including through the creation of green jobs and turn Malta into an education hub, filling the void left by Brexit.
Mario de Marco's statement
In a Facebook post later, Mario de Marco said the legal firm Guido de Marco & Associates and its lawyers, including himself, had never been asked for, or given, advice or legal assistance by and to Malta Enterprise or any matter relating to Allied Group.
This included advice relating to a grant or an application for one in connection with the purchase of printing machinery.
He said that between 2008 and 2013, when he formed part of Cabinet, he stopped practicing as a lawyer.
Even after 2013, de Marco said, he never personally involved himself in the legal services the firm provided to Malta Enterprise.
So any insinuation relating to involvement by the firm and its lawyers was a lie, he said.