The Malta Independent 18 October 2018, Thursday

Electoral commission can probe party financing breach claims as court rejects PN case

Thursday, 26 April 2018, 13:29 Last update: about 7 months ago

A constitutional court has ruled that the Electoral Commission can investigate alleged breaches of party financing laws and pass judgments, throwing out claims by the Nationalist Party that the commission “cannot act as judge, jury and executioner.”

The electoral commission had appointed an investigative board after hotelier Silvio Debono of the db Goup had claimed that the group had been asked to pay the salaries of two top PN officials, through donations paid to the PN’s media arm – Media.link Communications.

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The PN insists that these payments were for advertising services.

Then PN leader Simon Busuttil had insisted that the commission could not act as judge, jury and executioner. Busuttil had said that past court sentences had shown that the same entity could not be both investigator and judge.

The PN had argued that what the commission was doing was in breach of the constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. The party argued that it had never been formally notified about the nature of the investigation.

But the Constitutional Court, presided over by Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon, ruled that: “The Electoral Commission has the power to investigation, pass judgment, and penalise. This notwithstanding, the court also considers that as the regulator, the Electoral Commission is not a prosecutor because its main purpose is to ensure that rules are observed.”

The court added that the Commission was above party politics and independent of the political parties being investigated.

Moreover, the proceedings in front of the Electoral Commission were not final, and that the PN could appeal any decision before the Civil Court, the judgment read.

Regarding claims by the PN that it had not been notified of the investigation, the court argued that the commission had taken no action against the PN but had merely stated that it was evaluating the circumstances of the case to determine a way forward, and that it was only after this investigation that it could conclude there was something for the PN to answer to.

In a statement the government said the court had noted that the electoral commission and its roles were established by the constitution and the entity is an independent and impartial one that offers the necessary guarantees.

 The government appealed to the Nationalist Oposition to cooperate fully with the electoral commission in its investigation. After all, the government said, this goes hand in hand with the cardinal principle of the rule of law.

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