Any relationships between cabinet members and Yorgen Fenech would only be unacceptable if they continued after he became a murder suspect, Prime Minister Robert Abela has said.
Abela, however, said that he expected any ministers who were close to the alleged conspirator in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder to play no part in cabinet discussions concerning Fenech's fate, should it come to that.
Speaking to Times of Malta on Tuesday, Abela said he believes there is a “demarcation line” as to when any ministerial friendships with Fenech would be problematic.
“It depends whether the friendship or intimate relationship was before or after Yorgen Fenech was implicated in the [murder] case. To me that is the demarcation line,” he said.
“It is not right that you and some are trying to give the impression that just because a person had ever spoken to or had a friendship with Yorgen Fenech it is wrong.”
Fenech, who stands accused of conspiracy in the 2017 assassination, was arrested in November 2019.
His alleged involvement in the murder was not publicly known before that date, although he was identified as a suspect by investigators since 2018.
One year prior to his arrest, in November 2018, Times of Malta and Reuters had exposed Fenech as the owner of offshore company 17 Black.
Abela spoke to ministers following Twitter claims
Abela was asked about alleged relationships between any members of his cabinet and Fenech, after Paul Caruana Galizia, the son of the murdered journalist, claimed over the weekend that at least three ministers had close relationships with the business tycoon.
In a tweet on Sunday, Caruana Galizia wrote: “a minister has a history with one of the hitmen and, after Fenech’s role in the murder was known, a junior minister had an affair with him, and another minister was in constant contact with him.”
Times of Malta understands that after the tweet was published, Abela spoke with at least two cabinet members to discuss any links they may have had with the alleged murder conspirator - Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Equality Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar.
Replying to questions on Tuesday afternoon, Zammit Lewis insisted “there is no relationship” between himself and Fenech.
He said he had got to know Fenech when he was tourism minister [between 2014 and 2017], because the businessman was a leading operator in the sector.
“It is a small country, everyone knows everyone,” he said.
The minister later added that his “acquaintance” with Fenech would not affect his work as justice minister and ensuring justice is served.
Cutajar, on the other hand, offered a briefer response.
“I do not intend to respond to these personal allegations. Ask whoever is alleging these things,” she said.
'I would ask them to leave discussions on presidential pardon'
Abela said that if it indeed turned out that any of his Cabinet had a close or intimate relationship with Fenech, he would urge them to not be part of any cabinet discussion on any future presidential pardon requests by the alleged murder conspirator.
Fenech has previously sought - and been denied - a presidential pardon by the cabinet of the previous government.
However, Abela was quick to also stand by his ministers, saying that while he had already proven he was ready to take tough decisions – such as the sacking of former minister Konrad Mizzi – he would not let anyone dictate terms to the government.
“I also believe that you as journalists and whoever is spreading these doubts, that it is important not to humiliate people,” he said.