No proof to substantiate opposition motion - RCC
Richard Cachia Caruana, Malta's representative to the EU, said this evening that no proof had as yet been presented to substantiate an opposition motion against him.
He was making a statement during the seventh meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee which debated the opposition motion calling for his resignation.
The motion claims that Mr Cachia Caruana held meetings with the representatives of other countries in November 2004 and discussed how Malta could rejoin Partnership for Peace, behind parliament's back. The government denies the claims and says Mr Cachia Carauna had only been discussing access to security documents.
Mr Cachia Caruana said that during the last sitting, the debate went further than the motion which had accused him of treason, and he was asked a series of questions which were not related to the motion.
He noted that no proof had as yet been presented to back the accusations made against him.
The only attempt made to substantiate the claim was the presentation of a 2004 wikileaks cable ,when Malta only rejoined PfP in 2008.
He noted that he had already replied to questions about the cable and showed why it did not support the accusations being made, including that he had sought guidance from Washington.
The cable even indicated that he was following the instructions he had been given by the Maltese government. Moreover, the cable, allegedly written by an American official, was an overview of two meetings, one of which he did not even attend. It was signed by US official who had not been present for any of the meetings.
At this point, Labour MP George Vella noted that the statement was a repetition of things Mr Cachia Caruana had already said while replying to questions. He asked why the presentation of such a statement at this point was being permitted. Moreover, it was not true that the motion had accused Mr Cachia Caruana of treason, he said.
Committee chairman Francis Zammit Dimech and Foreign Minister Tonio Borg noted that a witness should have the right to make a statement in his defence.
Dr Vella said this could perhaps be done at the end of the sitting and not at this point, when questions were still being asked.
Mr Cachia Caruana's statement was then passed on to the members and taken as read.
Nationalist MP Francis Agius asked Mr Cachia Caruana whether he had been surprised when the motion was moved.
Mr Cachia Caruana replied that he was more than surprised as he had never expected such a motion.
Replying to questions by Labour MP Luciano Busuttil, Mr Cachia Caruana said there was a meeting on November 8, 2004, for which he was not present, during which the US proposed that Malta could consider a solution based on the existing Malta-Nato security of documents agreement.
When his staff briefed him on the proposal he met the US representatives for eight to 10 minutes and discussed the proposal in an informal manner.
Following the meeting, he sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister on November 9. He said he sent the memo immediately because if Malta decided to follow that idea, it could be interpreted that it had US backing.
He insisted that he had never discussed Malta’s policy matters with the US.
What the US knew was that the Maltese government had no intention at that stage to re-enter the Partnership for Peace.
He said he had never discussed with any government, Maltese or foreign, how any measure could be taken behind Parliament’s back. There had never been a discussion for which he was present which discussed anything of the sort.
Replying to further questions by Dr Busuttil, Mr Cachia Caruana said people in government knew that the government had no intention to join the PFP in 2004.
He said that on November 17, 2004 there was a discussion during which he was very critical on the US government’s attitude and conflicting statements and it was made clear that the government would not take up any proposal that was not clear.
An April 8, 2005 document, he said, showed that the government kept its proposal to use the 1995 security of documents agreement as a means to have access to security documents, without rejoining PfP.
That position remained throughout the legislature which ended in 2008. Following the 2008 election there was a decision for Malta to join the PfP. This decision solved all the previous issues.
Dr Busuttil pointed out that there had been no parliamentary debate before Malta decided to rejoin in 2008.
In reply to questions, Mr Cachia Caruana said he had at the time not seen a draft document which stated that Malta’s membership had been suspended and not terminated. He said he was not even aware that anyone had objected to this.
Replying to questions by Labour MP Owen Bonnici, Mr Cachia Caruana said that the obligations of membership in the PfP programme did not come from the framework document but from subsidiary documents.
Had Malta’s position been accepted it would have had access to the documents without the necessity of joining the PfP programme.
In his April 8, 2005 memorandum to the Prime Minister, which was never adopted, it was noted that an agreement could be reached with Nato for the exchange of classified information on the basis of reciprocity, something that had been possible when Malta joined the PfP programme in April 1996. The commitment Malta was willing to make was to acknowledge that it shared the values listed in framework document and assert its continuous adherence to these principles and values.
Dr Bonnici pointed out that in an article after the 2008 election, Mr Cachia Caruana had given a blow by blow analysis of what the polls had been saying up to that election.
He asked Mr Cachia Caruana at what stage did he know that a new PN government would apply for Malta to rejoin the PfP programme.
Mr Cachia Caruana said that if he was not mistaken, he learned this after the March election. He could not recall that the Prime Minister had discussed his intention with him. Between January and March 2008, the PN strategists had more difficult problems to tackle with the PN being far behind the Labour Party and wanting to take their party to victory.
Dr Bonnici pointed out this meant that the Prime Minister had told the US ambassador but not Mr Cachia Caruana, who was involved in the running of that election, of his intentions.
Labour MP Leo Brincat asked about the possibility, at another sitting, of questioning former Foreign Minister John Dalli.
Dr Borg said it would be irrelevant to question Mr Dalli because he was foreign minister before the said meetings with Nato and the US.
See Mr Cachia Caruana's statement on pdf below.