The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Justice Minister says it was Attorney General’s discretion to grant Darren Debono pardon

Tuesday, 11 January 2022, 13:39 Last update: about 7 months ago

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that it was the Attorney General's discretion as to whether or not to grant Darren Debono, known as il-Topo, a pardon, and that he does not interfere in such decisions.

Darren Debono, known as it-Topo, sensationally pleaded guilty to his involvement in the 2010 heist on the eve of the beginning of the trial by jury of Vincent Muscat in connection with the same heist. Debono was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison for his involvement in the heist, but had charges for attempted murder on a policeman dropped to attempted grievous bodily harm. He will now testify as a key witness in the case.

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This was a controversial move.

The Malta Police Union had said that it was 'dismayed and disappointed' by the plea deal struck in the HSBC heist case. "The plea deal included the attempted homicide charges that could have led to a far heftier sentence being dropped by the Attorney General (Victoria Buttigieg). This is another step which is causing huge demotivation amongst our officers. There is no respect for the important and dangerous work our officers do on a daily basis," the union had said. The Malta Police Union said that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done. "In this case the justice system as stirred by the Attorney General failed big time. The Malta Police Union invites the Attorney General, that for the next gun fight, she and members of her staff attend on scene, to feel how death looks like when it is so near."

Asked about the plea given, Zammit Lewis said that the rule of law means that the entities exercise their own discretion. "It is certainly not my role to go into those things. I don't do that and I hope that my predecessors and ministers who were from previous administrations did not do such things, did not interfere in the discretion of independent and autonomous institutions. What the Attorney General had to do, she did at her discretion."

His role, he said, is to strengthen an entity. "We strengthened it by separating it from the State Advocate, something which the PN ministers had been speaking about for years but did nothing about. It was a PL government that did it. It was also a PL government that invested more in both the Office of the State Advocate and the Attorney General. It was a PL government that, in the last budget gave an extraordinary budget to the Attorney General's Office, and gave prosecutorial powers to the Attorney General instead of leaving it in the hands of the police, as the Venice Commission told us to do."

Zammit Lewis said that "the discretion, in terms of the rule of law, of an entity is exercised by that entity." 
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