Updated 1.54pm with Repubblika, ADPD statements below
Edward Zammit Lewis communicated with Yorgen Fenech after addressing a press conference mocking attempts for justice over the businessman’s secret company 17 Black.
The justice minister, at the time a backbench MP, had addressed a press conference together with Robert Abela in January 2019, hours after a court blocked former opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s demands for a new inquiry into Fenech’s 17 Black and the Panama Papers scandal.
Busuttil had taken to the courts for the umpteenth time in an attempt to try to trigger an investigation after Times of Malta and Reuters revealed Fenech as 17 Black’s owner and detailed the company’s links to corruption.
Zammit Lewis and Abela had described Busuttil during the January 2019 press conference as a “threat to the rule of law” for his continued attempts to force court action on the Panama Papers and 17 Black.
Busuttil had suffered yet another “knockout blow” in the courts, Zammit Lewis told reporters.
Zammit Lewis sent Fenech copy of news report
Sources said shortly afterwards, Zammit Lewis asked Fenech if he is OK and sent him a link to an online news report detailing his mockery of Busuttil’s justice attempts during the press conference.
Reports published on Friday show Fenech and Zammit Lewis shared over 700 WhatsApp messages in the year leading up to the businessman’s arrest on murder charges.
At the time of the press conference, Fenech was applying pressure to his contacts within the PN to try to convince the party to get certain figures, including Busuttil, Jason Azzopardi and David Casa, to tone down their rhetoric about him and his company 17 Black.
Zammit Lewis: 'I have always worked in the best interests of the people'
Asked for comment, Zammit Lewis on Saturday said: “I have always worked in the best interest of the people and my work over the past years has always been proof of that.”
He added he was determined to keep contributing to the government’s unprecedented reforms, “irrespective who will have to face justice”.
The public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, published last Thursday, stressed the need to regulate the ties between politicians and big business.
The inquiry found “abundant proof” of the cosy relationship between certain government officials and big business, particularly those interested in promoting large-scale projects.
This proximity was a determining factor behind the majority of these projects ending up under the scrutiny of the Auditor General and magisterial inquiries, the inquiry said
Among a raft of suggestions, the inquiry called for tighter regulations about the way politicians and businessmen communicate.
Repubblika: Zammit Lewis must go
In a statement, rule of law NGO Repubblika said that once Edward Zammit Lewis does not have the decency to resign after the latest revelations, the prime minister should fire him.
"Edward Zammit Lewis's position as a member of the Cabinet is untenable. The fact that he continued his friendly chats with Yorgen Fenech after it became publicly known that Fenech was the owner of 17 Black makes him a person smeared with the filth that has brought Malta to its knees," the NGO said.
It said it will hold a press conference outside the Justice Ministry at the Auberge d'Aragon in Valletta on Tuesday evening, and the public is being invited.
ADPD: Edward Zammit Lewis is not fit for purpose
The ADPD political party also called for Zammit Lewis to go.
"The investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by Yorgen Fenech cannot be tainted by any conflict, whether actual or potential. Today's revelations of Edward Zammit Lewis' continued support to Yorgen Fenech as facts were emerging of Fenech's involvement in 17 Black make Zammit Lewis' position as Justice Minister untenable," it said.
"We expect Prime Minister Robert Abela to act without delay and ask for Edward Zammit Lewis' resignation. Should Zammit Lewis refuse to tender his resignation, the prime minister should fire him."