The Board of inquiry looking into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued to question the lack of action taken by government officials as the testimony of Alfred Camilleri, director of Projects Malta and Permanent Secretary at the Finance Ministry, continued to highlight the lack of procedure followed in government deals on major multi million euro projects.
As director of Projects Malta, Alfred Camilleri told the public inquiry board that he used to learn of the direct orders given by the government entity responsible for privatisation projects after they were given.
Camilleri, who is also the permanent secretary at the Finance Ministry, said it would be the CEO of Projects Malta who would sign off on these direct orders. Camilleri added that he had personally written to Chairman William Wait to push for a procurement system which would include more competition.
“Each direct order has to be justified, I strongly recommended that every effort should be made to open up procurement system to more competition,” he said.
Direct orders dished out by Projects Malta, which fell under the responsibility of disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi, were also mentioned during last week’s hearing before the board of inquiry.
Camilleri said the evaluation committee for Projects Malta used to be selected by Mizzi’s Ministry but could not say from which funds the members were paid.
The witness was replying to questions by lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia who asked him about direct orders given by Projects Malta, including numerous ones of substantial amounts resulting in hundreds of thousands of euro to Nexia BT, and Beat Ltd.
Both companies were on decision making committees related to multi million euro deals.
Konrad Mizzi, not Finance Minister, oversaw tax issue with Electrogas
At the beginning of Friday’s hearing, Camilleri was asked about the Electrogas deal.
Lawyer Comodini Cachia referred to an email from September 2017 where Turab Musayev, the Azerbaijani-British national who was SOCAR Trading’s representative on the board of Electrogas, mentioned a “minister working on solving the excise tax issue”.
The lawyer then asked which Minister the email was referring to. Camilleri explained it was Minister Mizzi and not Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.
When asked how come it was Mizzi taking care of a tax issue, the witness explained that Scicluna only got to know that these negotiations were conducted by Mizzi in January 2018.
The tax amounted to approximately €5 million, Camilleri said.
“What a small amount,” Comodini Cachia replied sarcastically.
The banks reached an agreement with the company on 30 November 2017. From four institutions, they had increased to eight banks and one financial company: BOV, KFW, HSBC London, Societe General, BNV Targa, DZ Bank, Credit Industrie et Commercial and Rivage, a finance company.
He said that was not privy to the details of this contract as it was between the bodies and the company.
Camilleri said that if things had gone wrong and the guarantee was touched, it wouldn’t have been good for the country saying that he was overcautious in the national interest.
He also said that the Ministry would ask questions, especially about the business model, but these questions were not taken well “by some people”.
Camilleri reiterated to the board that from his experience there wasn’t one project which wasn’t sent to the Auditor General for an investigation.
‘Wasn’t it your duty to do something?’
Judge Michael Mallia asked: “What we know for sure is that one year passed from when the news of the Panama Papers emerged until any action was taken. If it was taken, didn’t you think it was your prerogative (duty) to the country to do something?”
Camilleri said the ministry did not have the power to investigate. “Don’t ask me because I don’t know, I’m in administration,” he said.
In the last hearing on Wednesday the board of inquiry expressed its frustration with government officials “passing the buck”.
Camilleri said what he did following the revelations was “become more attentive”.
“I double-checked everything, but I could not do much as they were allegations, no one was convicted,” he added.
Comodini Cachia asked: “So until someone is convicted, you feel that you could do nothing? Even with regards political responsibility to stop dirtying the economic reputation of the country?”
“Political responsibility is not for me to shoulder,” said Camilleri, adding that he always provided the go ahead for resources when approached.
Scicluna had complained of the lack of transparency and accessibility to information from Projects Malta when requested. Yet two former chairpersons of Projects Malta told the board of inquiry that whenever information was requested they always gave it through the Finance Ministry’s permanent secretary Camilleri.
‘Look me in the eyes and say I am not involved’
Camilleri also made reference to a conversation he had with then Minister Mizzi. He told the court that at the end of last year, when thousands were protesting in Valletta over revelations that the Electrogas deal was linked to the murder of Caruana Galizia, a minister had gone up to him and asked him to say that was not involved in anything. Pressed by Azzopardi, Camilleri revealed that the minister was Konrad Mizzi.
“Look me in the eyes and say I am not involved,” Camilleri told the court that Mizzi had said to him in the corridors of parliament.