The Malta Independent 23 April 2019, Tuesday

Judge rules Attorney General breached Silvio Zammit’s rights

Friday, 27 April 2018, 17:00 Last update: about 13 months ago

A judge has ruled that the Attorney General has breached restauranteur Silvio Zammit's fundamental rights by failing to declare his evidence closed after the last witness refused to testify in the bribery case against him.

Zammit is facing criminal charges in connection with his alleged request for a bribe of €60 million from tobacco company Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council in order to help lift a ban on snus - a form of tobacco that can only be sold in Sweden under EU rules.

The scandal forced politician John Dalli - for whom Zammit was a canvasser - to step down after the EU anti-fraud agency (OLAF), which first investigated the case, claimed that the politician was aware that his name was being used in connection with the bribery attempt.
Zammit had filed a Constitutional reference in 2016, claiming that his case, which had started four years before, had been unnecessarily delayed by the prosecution's refusal to declare its evidence closed.

In his application, Zammit that the prosecution had declared that the only remaining witness, Inge Delfosse, was refusing to travel to Malta and testify as she risked incriminating herself.

Delfosse was an employee with snus producer Swedish Match.

Zammit's lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta argued that this was a breach of his right to a fair hearing and that there was no other option but to declare the evidence closed.

The Attorney General argued that the Constitutional reference was "premature," arguing that the delays were down to the defence's choice to file the Constitutional reference. The defence had to prove that the delays were capriciously caused by the AG with the intent to place Zammit at a disadvantage, it was argued.

The court, presided by judge Anna Felice, observed that it did not need to wait for conclusion of criminal proceedings against the accused to decide whether the delays would be likely to lead to a breach of his right to a fair hearing.

"The Attorney General's argument, that Delfosse was refusing to testify is the fault of the applicant who had filed a police report against her in Belgium, is unacceptable," said the court. "This in addition to the fact that...Delfosse had already declared that she didn't wish to testify before the report was made."

It is up to the Attorney General to determine the way forward, said the court. "Either he is going to obtain the deposition of the remaining witness quickly and with the greatest efficiency, or he would have to proceed without her. The compilation of evidence cannot remain stationary indefinitely in the hope that at some point Inge Delfosse is going to testify."

The court declared that Silvio Zammit had suffered a violation of his right to justice within a reasonable time under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The breach would continue to subsist until the prosecution obtained Delfosse's deposition or declared its evidence closed.

The case was remitted to the Court of Magistrates for it to continue hearing the evidence.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Kris Busietta appeared for Debono.


  • don't miss