Disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi on Friday followed in the footsteps of Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini in remaining tight-lipped and responding to each one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of questions put forward by the inquiry board with a repetitive “I won’t answer”.
Yet, when Mizzi did give a brief statement to the Public Inquiry Board looking into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, as requested by Judge Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino, he said under oath that there “were never any kickbacks”. He did not specify whether this included an intention for kickbacks.
Mizzi was asked about a large array of scandalous topics to which he has been linked, including his relationship with Nexia BT, his offshore company Hearnville, 17 Black, Macbridge, bank accounts in Dubai and Pilatus Bank, Keith Schembri, Vitals, Electrogas, his relationship with Yorgen Fenech, Paul Apap Bologna and Mark Gasan, his relationship with Cheng Chen, the Mozura wind farm, his work at Projects Malta, direct orders given to Nexia BT and his reaction to Caruana Galizia’s work.
Mizzi chose to remain silent, justifying his decision by citing ongoing investigations against him which are looking into money laundering and the decisions he took as Minister.
At one point, Mizzi verged from his predictable “I won’t answer” to inform his lawyers that there are “inaccuracies in the questions”.
“For example, they refer to me as a Minister but I was without a portfolio at the time” – this was met with a giggle and shakes of the head from people in the courtroom.
Following the list of questions read out by Judge Michael Malla, another member of the panel of judges, Said Pullicino, broke the repetitiveness by saying: “Everyone has given us the impression that no one had anything to hide. We are not judging you but the administration, and we are giving you the opportunity to speak to us about it… the opportunity is there for you to take”.
After a brief conversation with his lawyers, Mizzi made a statement.
He said he has always followed the directions of the prime minister on all major decisions. “I consulted him, and got the approval of the cabinet,” he said, adding that what was shown in the media “does not reflect what happened”.
“My only role was to improve the country with my projects,” he said.
“That is all the truth I want to say from my side. There were never kickbacks and I did nothing illegal as is being said. I worked for the best interest of the country and as the inquiries finish I wish to speak about everything in more detail,” he said.
Mizzi did not reply to questions by lawyer Jason Azzopardi on why he was removed from the Labour Party if he had not participated in anything illegal.
During the sitting, lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Azzopardi presented the board with a seven-page letter from Schillings – a firm in London that works “to solve a reputational problem”, to the board.
Schillings had sent the letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) at the time and referred to Mizzi as their client. Comodini Cachia asked Mizzi if he had hired them, to which he replied that he would not answer.
Comodini Cachia said the firm consists of intelligence experts, investigations, risk consultants, and “top people” from the military, banking, and government and is a team created “to solve a reputational problem or a privacy threat”.
The letter said how Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and one one of ICIJ’s employees, was the son of a “well-known blogger (who) is a public supporter of the Maltese Nationalist Party and has written numerous articles about our client and the party he is part of.”
“(Daphne) Caruana Galizia is a political activist and is perpetrating a smear campaign against him,” the letter said, advising the ICIJ to take a look at its sources and see that they “don’t have an axe to grind”.