Malta Developers Association President Sandro Chetcuti strongly denied on Monday that he ever had an office at the infamous “fourth floor” at the Labour Party headquarters.
“When I heard what was being reported, I immediately drew up an affidavit before notary Sam Abela stating that I never had an office there.”
Asked about his connections with the Labour Party, Mr Chetcuti replied that he acted as a “facilitator,” offering his help on a voluntary basis to bring members of the business community towards Joseph Muscat, who was at the time leader of the Opposition.
“But I never had access to the fourth floor before 2013,” insisted Mr Chetcuti. “When I took people to Muscat, we used to meet on the third floor”, adding that he would go when summoned by some PL official.
It was on the day of the 2013 elections that he first went to the fourth floor, said Mr Chetcuti, describing the large board room and other “cubicles” on that floor. He had acted on his own personal initiative and had sometimes done likewise with former PN leader Simon Busuttil.
“There’s no harm in that,” remarked Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino. “But we are here to determine whether those close ties caused trouble.”
Mr Chetcuti denied that Yorgen Fenech or his relatives as well as “DB Group” had been involved in those meetings.
“What about Café Premier and Gaffarena?” asked Judge Said Pullicino. “No,” came the reply.
As for former OPM Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, the witness said that he never saw Mr Schembri at the PL headquarters but had only met him after the elections at Castille.
After the Labour victory in 2013, meetings with the business community continued to take place either at Castille, or Girgenti or at some public venue, such as hotels. “We never did anything in secret [bil-mohbi],” Chetcuti claimed.
“Muscat remained in touch with people even after becoming Prime Minister. When I became president of MDA, I took a step back. I did not want to involve myself in party politics, even out of respect towards Simon Busuttil with whom I had also established contact.”
“I used to accompany businessmen from the construction sector, importers and hoteliers, upon an invitation by Joseph Muscat. Some told him about their personal problems, some were on the brink of bankruptcy, some opened up to him. But I never heard him promise anything to anyone,” explained Mr Chetcuti.
“I always nurtured a drive to boost the economy, but those meetings were never held on the fourth floor.”
As for monetary donations to the party, Mr Chetcuti did not deny sending people with donations when the PL held its fundraising marathon. He would direct them to then-CEO James Piscopo who would sometimes attend meetings between the businessmen and party leader.
Mr Chetcuti said that he too would give equal donations to both main parties and got a receipt for such.
“Were notes taken during those meetings?” asked Judge Said Pullicino. “I don’t think Dr Muscat kept record of those meetings. Sometimes notes of proposals put forward were taken down. But I cannot tell about follow up. I would leave with the businessmen after the meeting,” came the reply.
As questions sought to expand upon the “well-oiled” 2013 Labour campaign, Mr Chetcuti said that he knew that many people he took to Muscat came back with positive feedback and expressed their wish to give donations.
Asked about a “one-million” donation, he said he had no knowledge of such.
He also denied knowledge of a percentage commission on a large-scale national project in favour of the PL. “Had I known I would have left and would certainly have not returned.”
Asked about the “warm welcome” he gave Konrad Mizzi at an activity by Chris Fearne last week, Mr Chetcuti said that he had concluded many “positive things” with the former minister and that it was his manner of greeting people effusively.
“I also retain good relations with [PN’s] Marthese Portelli,” he remarked, drawing sharp retribution by Dr Azzopardi that Dr Portelli “had no Panama company and did not get €5000 daily. There is no comparison.”
Asked about the Electrogas project, he denied any involvement.
“I always acted above board and I want business to be conducted above board. General principle among the business community is to have policies, work and then it’s a question of survival of the fittest.”
“In spite of media spin to cast a shadow upon me! Even [Speaker] Anglu Farrugia, out of all those businessmen, only mentioned Sandro Chetcuti!”
The inquiry continues on Tuesday when an anonymous media person will again testify behind closed doors.
Other sittings are scheduled for next week.
The Board is chaired by former Justice Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro. Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Andrew Borg Cardona, Therese Comodini Cachia and Peter Caruana Galizia are assisting the victim’s family.