The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

Times bribery case: ‘Absolutely no evidence’ against Charles Mercieca, defence argues

Wednesday, 24 February 2021, 14:15 Last update: about 3 months ago

Lawyer Charles Mercieca’s defence counsel has argued that there is “absolutely no evidence” against his client in a case of attempted bribery of a journalist.

Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran, who form part of the legal team representing Yorgen Fenech, stand charged with trying to bribe a Times of Malta journalist.

Mercieca’s lawyer, Stephen Tonna Lowell, said charges against his client should be dropped.

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Caruana Curran is being represented by his mother, lawyer Giannella de Marco.

The accused appeared in the dock today before Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras.

Superintendent James Grech and Inspector Anthony Xerri are charging the pair with bribery, after Times journalist Ivan Martin told police that he had rejected “between two and four €500 notes” handed to him by Caruana Curran towards the end of a meeting over a story.

The two lawyers are pleading not guilty to the charges.

Although originally slated to be cross-examined today, Martin will answer questions from the defence lawyers at a later date.

The court heard verbal arguments by the prosecution and defence, who are claiming that the evidence against the pair is non-existent in the case of Charles Mercieca and extremely weak in that of Caruana Curran.

Tonna Lowell argued that a witness’s audiovisual statement – such as that given by Martin to the police - can never be taken as evidence. “There are copious amounts of jurisprudence on the matter,” he said.

“A declaration by a witness can never be used as evidence. We need disclosure of the statements made by persons.  What the prosecution is saying is that this statement be exhibited as evidence in the acts. But it can never constitute evidence. Criminal law says the court must hear evidence viva voce,” Tonna Lowell argued.

“Let us not make bizarre interpretations of the rule of disclosure. We have absolutely no problem with the court seeing the declaration, but it can never constitute evidence,” Tonna Lowell said.

He informed the court that the defence would be contesting the prima facie – the assertion that there is sufficient evidence at first glance to merit indictment – with regards to Mercieca, but not Caruana Curran.

Xerri argued that it was clear that an attempt to pass on money to the journalist was made, adding that the police had investigated this itself and had not relied on press reports.

Listing the elements of the crime with which the men are charged he said, “prima facie is a level of probability and the evidence reaches this level.”

Tonna Lowell insisted, however, “In Charles’ case my conscience doesn’t allow me not to contest prima facie”.

“There is no evidence. ‘Baħħ’. The inspector said he had sent for people, but had he sent for Ivan Martin twice? No, because the aim was to prosecute these two people. As a lawyer of 25 years’ experience, some things do not escape me easily,” submitted the lawyer.

But, he went on, it is irrelevant to go into [arguments about] the level of evidence… if nothing was brought against Mercieca it is useless to argue, as there is absolutely no evidence. Nowhere is there a promise of an offer in the documentary evidence,” Tonna Lowell said.

He said that the evidence before the court showed “absolutely no wrongdoing” on Mercieca’s part.

He added that with respect to Caruana Curran the defence also said that there was insufficient evidence, but that in Mercieca’s case there was none at all.

Inspector Xerri retorted that “everything shows that these meetings were arranged by Mercieca, in his office, and the cash was handed over in his presence.”

But Tonna Lowell hit back. “The simple fact of his presence convinces me even more that there is no crime. Complicity is not a crime ut sic, but if a person is accused of complicity it must be proven. It is an absolutely absurd interpretation.”

The court put the case off to 3 March for a decision on prima facie.

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