The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Panama Papers: Latest judgement ‘exposes serious risks’ for Malta’s rule of law – David Casa

Albert Galea Sunday, 20 January 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

The latest judgement of the Criminal Court of Appeal on the Panama Papers inquiry "exposes the serious risks posed to the rule of law in Malta", says Nationalist MEP David Casa in a letter to the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova.

In the letter sent last Monday, Casa calls on Jourova to open an investigation into the decision of the Criminal Court of Appeal to reverse an order by the Court of Magistrates to open an inquiry into the Panama Papers, saying: "It is now abundantly clear that the law is not being applied equally to everyone, that the institutions are not providing effective remedies and that consequently, EU law is not and cannot be effectively enforced in Malta." Casa wrote that the decision raises questions on Malta's commitment to the value of the rule of law enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Jourova has been critical of Malta in the past, saying that there were large gaps in the country's anti-money-laundering legislation that undermined the fight against criminality across the whole of Europe.  She has also been critical of the government's citizenship-selling programme, the Individual Investor Programme.

Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil had asked the courts to launch a magisterial inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations. Initially, magistrate Ian Farrugia had decided to open an inquiry into whether money-laundering laws had been breached by high-ranking members of the government when they opened the Panamanian companies and New Zealand trusts, as revealed by the Panama Papers.

The seven individuals mentioned in the application for an inquiry - Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Nexia BT duo Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman - however, filed an application for Magistrate Farrugia's decision to be revoked.

The appeal was originally before Judge Antonio Mizzi, which proved to be quite controversial, but was subsequently passed on to Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti after Judge Antonio Mizzi retired. On 8 January, Grixti revoked the initial decision to open the inquiry, arguing that the level of detail in Simon Busuttil's claims did not satisfy the requirements at law for such an inquiry to begin. The court found that Busuttil did not, in his application, indicate in detail the facts of the crimes he alleged took place, and only made allegations.

In his letter to Jourova, Casa said that the decision was cause for "major concern" for several reasons.  Firstly, the decision effectively slams the door on opening an inquiry into the Panama Papers, despite revelations that prove that Schembri and Konrad Mizzi opened secret companies in Panama for the purpose of receiving €5,000 a day from a Dubai-registered company called 17 Black, owned by one of the Maltese owners of the new power station project.

He also noted that, with this decision, there is now no political, legal or judicial authority in Malta willing to open an investigation into these revelations, hence removing any possibility of redress or effective remedy.

The MEP noted that the decision ignored evidence that is in the public domain through the Panama Papers and "places the onus of finding evidence on the citizen who requests an investigation, thereby rendering meaningless the whole point of asking for an investigation."  He said that the judgement also argues that the documents obtained by the Panama Papers are inadmissible in court because they were obtained illegally.

"The decision effectively makes it impossible for a remedy to be obtained in the case of a breach of the EU Money Laundering directives and also breaches Article 19 (1) of the TEU which lays down that 'Member states shall provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law'", Casa said.

The Panama Papers are a set of 11.5 million documents which were leaked in 2015 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from records of the firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents contain personal financial information about wealthy individuals and public officials that had previously been kept private. While offshore business entities are legal, reporters found that some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax-evasion and evading international sanctions.

Investigations using data that the Panama Papers exposed have been carried out in Argentina, Australia, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Pakistan, Sweden, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, amongst others.

Speaking to this newsroom, Casa said: "The investigation and prosecution of powerful politicians on corruption and money-laundering has been rendered impossible in Malta. It is horrific that no investigation on the Panama Papers leak will take place.

"Compare the situation in Malta to that in Pakistan, where those exposed were brought to justice. When institutions protect corrupt politicians to the detriment of honest citizens we are all worse off. I will not look the other way while the situation continues to deteriorate", he added.

In Pakistan, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the dealings of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In 2017 he was removed from the post of Prime Minister by the Supreme Court and a year later was sent to prison for 10 years and prohibited from ever hold public office again due to his involvement in the Panama Papers scandal.

Tunisia was another country which saw widespread action taken.  The Tunis trial court prosecutor ordered that a judicial inquiry be opened into the Panama Papers and the Tunisian political figures suspected of hiring the firm. A judge from the Financial Judiciary Pole - a Tunisian court that specialises in financial crimes - was assigned to the case. The Tunisian Assembly of Representatives of the People also established a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. Malta is the only member of the European Union that has a Minister implicated in this scandal.


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