Updated at 5.45pm
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca told a court on Wednesday that the Paqpaqli 2015 motorshow in which 23 people were injured in a crash, was organised by a third party and she did not have a direct role in the organisation.
The President was giving evidence in a case for the payment of damages instituted by six spectators who were injured when a Porsche 918 driven by millionaire philanthropist Paul Bailey went out of control and ploughed into the crowd.
President Coleiro Preca herself had been taken on a ride in the same car shortly before the crash.
In her testimony, the President said her role as chairperson was non-executive and she did not even have a vote. Paqpaqli, she said, was considered to be a third party event.
When Dr Michael Grech showed the president a publicity flyer of Paqpaqli 2015 which had a logo of l-Istrina, she said this was a l-Istrina event, one of several third party events that used the logo of l-Istrina for publicity.
Asked who gave authorisation for use of the logo, she said she could not recall that detail but it could have been someone from the Malta Community Chest Fund. That was an administrative job.
Asked next about the Board of Administrators, she said she had sometimes attended meetings of the board in the early days. The board rarely discussed events, as far as she knew.
Asked who had organised l-Istrina in 2015, the President said Paqpaqli ghall l-Istrina had an organizing team led by Tonio Darmanin.
This event already existed when she became president and it was taken on board. She did not change anything.
She did not know any persons involved and only saw them once around a table.
Her ADC (assistant) had asked her to meet Tonio Darmanin in 2014 when the Malta Community Chest Fund was not yet a foundation. She was told the motorshow generated funds and ought to be retained.
She met Mr Darmanin and only asked him if he was interested in continuing the event.
Nothing was said about the organisation, and she did not interfere in something she knew nothing about.
The interest of the community chest fund in Paqpaqli was purely to raise funds. The MCCF was not the organizer or the motorshow, although it organised other events such as Rockestra and the Fun Run.
Paqpaqli was handled by Mr Darmanin's team, and the community chest fund acted according to requests.
She did not know details, other than that the core committee met at San Anton Palace and she sometimes saw Mr Darmanin on her way out.
She knew Mr Darmanin chaired the organizing committee, the core committee of Paqpaqli għall l-Istrina and relied on him.
The President was shown minutes of some meetings and asked to identify some of those she attended, She confirmed that a Ray Arpa was a member of the AFM employed by her Office as was Noel Zarb. She also identified Karm Briffa, who handled financial aspects.
It was pointed out to the President that she had said that the community chest fund was not involved in the organization of the event. Now it seemed that there were MCCF representatives at meetings.
The president replied that they were there to assess whether this third party event was worth being involved with. They worked as volunteers. This was a time when an exercise was underway to evaluate all third-party events.
But how could the minutes refer to an 'Office of the President financial member’ when the OPR did not have anything to do with the money, the President was asked. What were such people doing at the meeting?
The president said Noel Zarb was there for PR, Mr Arpa was there for logistics, but they had not reported to her. The community chest fund was not managed by her, she stressed. The reference in the minutes to a member from the Office of the President was incorrect. They were there as volunteers.
The president was also asked about other people who attended the meetings. She said she knew some of them, but not others.
Brian Gatt, her ADC, had entered the scene at a later stage to assist in organizing meetings. That was a time when the team was falling apart and she had personally asked him to join the core committee. But he was not representing her. He was just facilitating. He did not get instructions from her.
The president, sounding emotional, said it was a mistake to imply she was involved in organising the event. What she wanted was to ensure that justice was done. She felt sorry for the victims.
When calm was restored, the president said the event was never discussed within the supervisory council of the Malta Community Chest Fund. The council was the highest organ in the MCCF, chaired by the president.
Replying to further questions, the president said that there was no liaison officer between Paqpaqli and the Office of the President. She did not know who was liaison officer between Paqpaqli and the community chest fund.
Asked what measures were taken by the Office of the President and the Malta Community Chest Fund to ensure that the event was safe, the president said she could not reply, and it was best to ask Tonio Darmanin.
She was not involved in decisions on who was to drive at the show. She was not even there at the time of the accident, having been there for about half an hour earlier that morning.
The Office of the President and the Malta Community Chest Fund were not involved in the organization of the track, the president said. She did not know who was in charge, or of what, on the day as she was neither present for meetings nor present on the scene.
The president was also asked whether her office held any internal inquiry after the incident.
She said there was none because they had no competence in the matter. The case was handled at a formal level.
Dr Reuben Farrugia pointed out that the President’s website had reported a statement by the president on Paqpaqli ghall l-Istrina August 2015 wherein she was quoted as saying that the MCCF organized such events to raise funds for charities. Dr Stefano Filletti asked for the full statement to be quoted so that its proper context could be understood.
The president clarified that was a report, not a quote and one should not be selective.
The lawyer also pointed out that a press release about the cars participating in the show was issued by the Office of the President before the 2015 event. It was also said that tickets were available from San Anton.
The president said there was a reception area for this reason at San Anton. She also insisted one should not refer to the Office of the President when one meant the Malta Community Chest Fund. One should not damage the Office, and she was refusing to answer further questions about it. Funds were handled by the Malta Community Chest Fund. In the case of Paqpaqli, she did not know about funding of the event.
Dr Alessia Zammit McKeon referred to costing reports recorded in minutes of core committee meeting by Ray Arpa.
It was said that barriers for the event were to bought from China for €70,000. The idea was to buy barriers which could then be leased out on other events, such as Rockestra.
The president said she did not know about this as she was not present at the meeting. However, she would not be surprised. That would save money.
‘Her excellency agreed to buy the barriers....’ the minutes stated, Dr Zammit McKeon continued.
The president said she had learnt of the purchase proposal after that meeting, not after the Paqpaqli event. The barriers were not purchased not because of their cost but because of a problem of storage.
Dr Zammit McKeon said that according to what she was quoting, the barriers had not been bought because funds were lacking. If this was a third party event how come there was funding by the community chest fund?
The president said events are varied. This was a huge event.
But was the president still insisting this was a third party event?
The president said yes.
She said the community chest fund had not handled the funds. KPMG did that. Even the actual collection on the day. From the total takings, costs were deducted and the balance went to the community chest fund, the president concluded.
Before her lengthy deposition, lasting over two hours, President Coleiro Preca declared she was in court to state the facts as known to her.
She explained how the MCCF was transformed into a foundation on April 22, 2015 and pointed out that the MCCF and the OPR were separate entities.
At the start of the sitting, John Camilleri, chairman of the board of administrators of the MCCF, denied any form of contact with the Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina organisers.
“I swear to God that although I’m chairman, I only got to know these persons on the organising committee over these last months. I had never met them before, except for Tonio Darmanin who is a TV personality and a familiar face,” Mr Camilleri emphatically declared.
Later in the afternoon, Norman Attard, who in 2015 had been working at OPR, recalled having been tasked by someone from the office to do the paperwork related to theevent.
Another witness, Mark Guillaumier, at the time seconded to OPR, said that on the first day of reporting for duty, he had been instructed by the logistics manager to meet Melvin Haber at the AFM barracks.
There he had been asked to conduct market research on water barriers to be used during the event.
Having obtained the requested quotations for some 1,500 barriers, Mr Guillaumier had handed over his findings to Mr Darmanin and his team, saying that the total expense had run into ‘tens of thousands but less than €100,000’.
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