The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

TMIS Editorial: All their days in court

Sunday, 21 July 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

The wheels of justice are turning, albeit at their typically glacial pace, and each of those government ministers and top brass implicated in all those shady deals struck since 2013 should now expect their day in court.

The Office of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, has been ordered by the courts to present himself at a forthcoming hearing to explain the infamous 17 Black company, which he himself has acknowledged was a ‘target client’ of one of his offshore companies.

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He can now stop beating around the bush and taking the courts for a ride as he neglects to show up for hearing after hearing as though his position somehow precludes him from being within arm’s length of the long arm of the law.

He will have to testify in court about 17 Black after a magistrate said he would accept no further delays from Schembri in a libel case that he himself opened. But the problem appears to be that once the tables were turned and Schembri was asked about 17 Black, he suddenly developed a case of cold feet. 

His pleas for exemption have been thrown out by a court presided over by one of the new magistrates who was, no less, controversially sworn in despite recommendations to the contrary from the Venice Commission.

Such is his reluctance to speak about or be questioned about 17 Black that Schembri’s lawyers had even argued that the infamous company should not be factored into the case because its name was not yet in the public domain when the allegedly libellous comments were made ­– an argument the court found to have been completely irrelevant.

In another case that could shake the foundations of government, three top government ministers – Konrad Mizzi, Edward Scicluna and Chris Cardona – are now the subject of a magisterial inquiry over their roles in one of the shadiest deals the country has seen to date: the Vitals Global Healthcare state hospitals swindle.

This bodes particularly poorly for Scicluna. Not only is he the first EU finance minister to face such an investigation, but it also places his prospective candidature for the European Commission under an even darker cloud than it was previously, if that were even possible given all that has transpired under his watch.

The ministers, of course, say they plan to appeal while also arguing that the court did not pronounce itself on the merits of the case or delve into the facts of the case, but only referred the allegations to an inquiring magistrate.

So the ministers, in a joint statement, said the case was ‘only’ referred to an inquiring magistrate and described the allegations against them as speculative in nature and made in bad faith by politically motivated individuals.

Of course, we would not have expected anything less from them but we couldn’t be blamed for expecting better either. And the ministers should be reminded that when a case is referred to an inquiring magistrate, that means that they are actually being investigated by the courts for good reason. The courts do not order magisterial inquiries on mere ‘speculation’ or solely on the actions of ‘bad faith by politically motivated people’.

Do the ministers think that the courts are cut from the same cloth as the cabinet, taking decisions based on speculation and the actions of politically motivated people? If so, here’s a news flash: they are not.

And in a second blow to the same three ministers, they have also been ordered by the Constitutional Court to testify on submissions they made which appear to have come from the unpublished Egrant report after it transpired that the text they cited did not form part of the 50-page summary of the Egrant report released to the public by Attorney General Peter Grech last year.

If that was indeed the case, it was quite a blunder, never mind all the questions that would arise if it turns out that the cabinet has had the run of the document while the Opposition leader has been refused a copy time and time again and has even resorted to legal action.  The PN leader has said that denying him access to the report constitutes a breach of his fundamental rights, not to mention political discrimination, and he is right.

But the strange thing which we just cannot seem to wrap our heads around is how all those concerned profess their innocence to the ends of the earth but, at the same time, do everything they can to delay court proceedings and having to testify to their innocence.  One would imagine that such people would be champing at the bit to have their day in court and to prove their guiltlessness.

But if that were indeed the case, then why all the resistance to inquiries and court cases that would only serve to clear their names? Something is not adding up here because it is either a case of those running the country not having the same faith in the courts and in our judicial processes that they expect us common mortals to have, or, frankly, they must have something to hide.

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