Prime Minister Robert Abela has ordered the removal of his predecessor’s longtime photographer Joe Camenzuli from a government company’s board of directors and has replaced him with Ronnie Vella, who worked at the Office of the Prime Minister under Joseph Muscat in the intense last few months before his resignation in disgrace in January 2020.
Vella had confirmed to the Board of the Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia that he was employed as a projects manager at Projects Malta, except for the four months he was employed within the Office of the Prime Minister’s communications team, until January 2020.
That period – October 2019 to January 2020 – coincided with the massive anti-corruption protests that culminated in Muscat’s resignation.
It also coincided with the time that journalists were locked in a room at Castille by Vella and others to prevent them from asking Muscat questions following a late-night political crisis press conference called by Muscat in the wake of a Cabinet meeting on 29 November 2019.
The meeting followed Yorgen Fenech’s arrest as the suspected mastermind of the journalist’s murder. The press conference was called at 3am after a six-hour emergency Cabinet meeting.
After the meeting, Muscat announced that Fenech would not receive a presidential pardon in return for revealing names higher up the chain, which he said had ordered the assassination.
Vella was identified as being among those who were guarding the doors in a room where journalists had been corralled inside the Office of the Prime Minister and preventing them from leaving the premises.
The matter eventually made its way to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life at the time of George Hyzler, who drew up a report and handed it over to Speaker of the House of Representatives Anglu Farrugia.
When a report is not published but is instead passed on to the Speaker, it is understood that an ethics breach has been found. The report made its way to Parliament’s government MP majority ethics committee, which eventually voted against its publication.
During his testimony to the public inquiry, Vella had been questioned about him having followed and photographed journalists with his mobile phone, with particular reference to an incident in Rabat on 25 May 2017 during the general elections campaign.
The board told Vella it had information that he was in a Rabat bar and had been following a person.
Vella told the inquiry he felt it was his duty to give information about someone who was of relevance or interest to the Labour Party or the OPM.
He testified that he used to send the information to Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
Minister Miriam Dalli has now placed Vella in Camenzuli’s stead on the board of Engineering Resources Ltd (ERL) with Vella at the behest of Prime Minister Robert Abela, The Shift is informed.
It is understood that relations between Abela with Camenzuli have been frayed since the latter was associated with Christian Borg, a car leasing entrepreneur accused of numerous criminal charges, including kidnapping.
The Prime Minister has sought to distance himself from Borg and his No Deposit Cars – and from the fact that the two did business together when Abela was a practising lawyer.
More recently, a van allegedly used in the kidnapping was found in a field used by Camenzuli.
The other ERL board members Dalli appointed include Rachel Debono, the Prime Minister’s personal secretary who used to work for PL CEO James Piscopo; William Lewis, the PL Organising Secretary; Kelly Cesare, a PL activist from Floriana; Kevin Chircop, a former Enemalta Chairman when the corrupt windfarm Montenegro deal was struck and Alessandro Lia, the son of PL lawyer Pawlu Lia.
The board also includes Alex Scerri Herrera, the son of Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera; Sharon Penza, the daughter of road construction magnate Carmelo Penza; and Ray Falzon, a party activist and property developer.
Ryan Pace, who used to work at Robert Abela’s private legal office, is the company’s secretary.