Former minister Michael Farrugia is a liar. That was confirmed by Robert Abela’s hand-picked Commissioner for Standards in Public Life Joseph Azzopardi.
The Commissioner reached one conclusion: “The Hon Farrugia failed to state the truth…This represents a breach of articles 4.4 and 10.3 of the Ethics Code”. No matter how carefully the Commissioner attempted to mask that truth, it’s out.
ONE’s news headline defied reality. ‘Commissioner’s report on Michael Farrugia published – the deputy did not lie’. That is shockingly brazen even by ONE’s standards. If there were a proper broadcasting authority, it would act. But this is Labour’s Malta where ONE calls black white and nobody bats an eyelid.
The Commissioner bent over backwards to shield Farrugia. He even admitted, in his report, that he bent the rules. Point 22 reads: “The undersigned makes it clear that in these procedures there is no need for allegations to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It is enough therefore for reasonable conclusions to be reached based on available evidence…But in this specific case (the undersigned) is keeping to the strict criteria of the law”.
Why did the Commissioner change the rules for Farrugia?
Farrugia was asked a simple question by The Times. “Did you meet Yorgen Fenech?” Farrugia deceitfully replied that he “had no such meeting”. When presented with the visitors’ logbook showing he’d met Yorgen Fenech at Castille on 3 March 2014, Farrugia swiftly changed his version: “No such meeting on Mriehel sight (sic) ever took place”.
Farrugia lied and was caught. He certainly didn’t tell the complete truth, as Article 5.7 of the Code of Ethics demands: “They must provide complete and correct information to parliament, cabinet and the general public”.
Farrugia was covering up his dodgy meeting with Yorgen Fenech for good reason. Immediately after their meeting, Farrugia wrote to the Planning Authority and instructed that Mriehel be included as a zone in the high-rise policy. And Fenech’s Tumas Group, along with the Gasan Group, built The Quad towers.
Farrugia was manifestly dishonest. Yet the Commissioner robustly defended him. He argued in his report that Farrugia’s reply that he “never had such a meeting”, was not untrue. “He didn’t say that he did not have any meetings with Fenech but that he did not have a meeting related to the subject in question. Therefore, strictly speaking, it cannot be said he changed his version. It would have been different had he, for example, stated that he ‘never met Mr Fenech’”. How pathetic is that?
Farrugia failed to divulge the truth. He clearly intended to mislead the country. He wanted his suspicious meeting kept secret. Yet the Commissioner fabricated a lamentable defence on his behalf and changed the rules to exonerate him.
Those weren’t Farrugia’s only lies. He deceitfully denied taking the decision to include Mriehel in the high-rise policy. He lied that the evaluation committee dealing with public consultation had taken it, days before he ordered the Planning Authority to include Mriehel.
The Times requested documentation to prove the committee had taken the decision. But Farrugia came up with the dog-ate-my-homework excuse. “I no longer have access to such documentation”. Farrugia’s letter to then-Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg, however, was available. It read, “Mriehel is to be considered as an appropriate location for tall buildings.”
The Commissioner gave Farrugia plenty of opportunity to squirm out of that one too. But not even Abela’s compliant Commissioner could find a way to exculpate Farrugia. He had no option but to find him guilty of “failing to tell the truth”, yet still tried to fudge the issue.
In point 28 of his report, the Commissioner defended Farrugia: “Six years had passed between the events and his replies (to journalists)”. Poor Michael Farrugia. How could he possibly remember such a trivial meeting with Yorgen Fenech at Castille, after which he unilaterally changed government policy in Fenech’s favour?
Throughout the investigation into his despicable behaviour and his flagrant dishonesty, Farrugia displayed Machiavellian deviousness.
He claimed the inclusion of Mriehel in the policy disadvantaged the investors (Yorgen Fenech). Architect David Pace, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning in the Ombudsman’s Office was consulted about this. He stated categorically, “The argument that Yorgen Fenech was disadvantaged by the FAR revision is not correct.”
Farrugia lost it. He maliciously accused Pace of trying to deceive the Commissioner. “This all shows the deceit of Architect Pace,” Farrugia wrote to the Commissioner. Nobody needs Pace’s confirmation to see that Fenech profited handsomely from Farrugia’s abusive intervention – we’ve got The Quad towers to show it.
Farrugia contradicted himself, claiming it was an inter-ministerial committee that had taken the decision. The Commissioner asked Farrugia who sat on that committee. Farrugia failed to answer.
Farrugia claimed that Buttigieg, who would later tell Yorgen Fenech “We can do business whenever you want” was the only other person present at that meeting. Farrugia nominated Buttigieg as his alibi. This was a rerun of the Justyne Caruana-Frank Fabri stunt but the Commissioner accepted it.
Buttigieg’s testimony was a mess of lies. He claimed he sat on that inter-ministerial committee. “Mriehel was in our mind for inclusion…but we left it out…and then we realised we’d left it out…so we put it back in again”.
So why didn’t the Malta Environment and Planning Authority [now the Planning Authority] tell the minister about its revision, the Commissioner asked Buttigieg. And why did Farrugia write to MEPA to include Mriehel? Buttigieg didn’t reply. He couldn’t.
The Commissioner asked Buttigieg whether he knew about Farrugia’s letter. Buttigieg lied again. “I think it is referring to a letter sent to Vince Cassar.” The letter was addressed to Buttigieg, with “Dear CEO” handwritten by Farrugia himself even though he wasn’t the minister. The Commissioner noted that “Doctor Farrugia was Parliamentary Secretary and could not take that decision”.
But he took it anyway, for obvious reasons.
The Commissioner accepted Buttigieg’s evidently false testimony. He didn’t have to. There was someone else at that fateful meeting – Yorgen Fenech. The Commissioner could have called Fenech in to testify about what was really discussed. Instead, he chose to believe two liars.