The Malta Independent 21 February 2019, Thursday

Law firm used in government’s defence of rule of law report paid €26,000 by direct order

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 4 March 2018, 08:30 Last update: about 13 months ago

The legal firm that was used to pen the government’s reply to a damning rule of law report by MEPs was paid €26,000 by direct order, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici revealed when replying to a parliamentary question tabled by MP Karol Aquilina.

“I believe that in light of the work being done against our country on the international stage, which is built upon half truths, inconclusive reports and assumptions, the Government had to involve a legal firm with an international reputation,” Bonnici explained.

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“I am informed that the Ministry did pay €26,000 for the legal services of the international firm in question, however the individual mentioned was never paid directly by the Ministry. Obviously the responsibility of the contents of the report is with the Maltese Government.”

Direct orders have been at the centre of debate in Parliament ever since a series of parliamentary questions revealed how a significant number of Ministries were spending millions on direct orders.

On top of this, a number of direct orders appear to be in a breach of regulations given that payments that exceeded €120,000 needed to be awarded according to an established tendering procedure.

The report in question refers to the government’s reply to a rule of law report penned by a delegation of MEPs, which was called for after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The report called for investigations into a number of persons and entities involved in the Panama Papers scandal, mentioning Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri by name; criticised the police for a lack of investigations and harshly criticised the Attorney General for failing to launch investigations following serious allegations of money laundering and kickbacks by top government officials.

In their reply, the government said that “investigation orders are highly intrusive and it is for that reason that they are only granted by the court and only in circumstances where the threshold of reasonable cause has been met”.

They also focused on a number of key elements, mainly that MEPs showed a lack of understanding in the way institutions work, that some statements were factually incorrect and that the delegation ignored many reforms brought into place by this government.

 

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