The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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Magistrate Lia refuses to recuse herself from Pilatus case, Repubblika to go to constitutional court

Wednesday, 7 September 2022, 18:00 Last update: about 18 days ago

Magistrate Nadine Lia has rejected a request from the NGO Repubblika to recuse herself from hearing their case against the police and Attorney General for not charging directors related to Pilatus Bank.

In a decree handed down on Tuesday, which was published by the NGO in a statement on Wednesday, Lia also refused to allow her father-in-law lawyer Pawlu Lia to testify in the case.

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Pawlu Lia is the lawyer of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and the NGO contended that because the Pilatus Bank inquiry states that certain parts of the Egrant inquiry should be revisited, then Magistrate Nadine Lia has a conflict of interest on the basis of her father-in-law’s representation of Muscat.

Repubblika said in a statement that in her words and behaviour, it believes that Magistrate Lia has shown that she cannot be or appear to be impartial in hearing this case.

The NGO said that it will be filing a constitutional case in the coming days in order to ensure that their case is heard by an impartial court. 

“It is Repubblika’s understanding that the system wherein when a member of the judiciary is asked to recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest must decide by themselves whether to accept this request or not is in and of itself unjust and against the fundamental right for a fair hearing,” Repubblika said.

The NGO said in that in her decree, Magistrate Lia rejected what Repubblika put forward because she said that the original application filed by the NGO was focused only on the directors of Pilatus Bank and on the fact that the police had not charged any of them and made no reference to Egrant.

The NGO however said that Lia had ignored what Repubblika wrote in its original application, where they spoke about how the magisterial inquiry ordered that the Egrant inquiry be reopened because it is intimately tied to the operations of Pilatus Bank.

It said that Magistrate Lia ignored this reference to Egrant simply so she could find an excuse for her not to recuse herself over a conflict of interest.

This is on the basis that her father-in-law Pawlu Lia is not and never was the lawyer of any of Pilatus Bank’s directors, the NGO said before adding that Magistrate Lia was selectively ignoring that her father in law was the lawyer for Joseph Muscat when the Egrant inquiry was looking into claims that the secret Panama company belonged to the former Prime Minister’s wife.

“It is in Joseph Muscat’s (and Keith Schembri’s) interest that the directors of Pilatus Bank never face justice,” Repubblika said.

The NGO repeated a part of the Pilatus inquiry which it revealed on Wednesday; a part which expressly recommended that the allegation that Pilatus Bank administered an alleged $1.017 million transaction to Egrant.

Repubblika said that Magistrate Lia’s imbalance is shown in that she on Wednesday “threw away” a document which was certified by a public notary rather than showing it as proof of what the NGO is saying was extracted from the inquiry.

“The fact is that Magistrate Lia has every means of verifying to her own satisfaction as to whether the copy which Repubblika President notary Robert Aquilina certified, is in actual fact authentic,” the NGO said.

In fact, the NGO said, if Aquilina is lying in that the document he signed is not authentic, as it said that the Magistrate was implying by discarding the documentation, then it means that Aquilina took false oath and had displayed shortcomings in his professional obligations, which is a criminal offence.

“Therefore, if the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, with the direct access which they have to the original inquiry report, know that the copy presented by Notary Aquilina is not authentic, then they have the duty to immediately arrest and charge him with these crimes,” Repubblika said.

The NGO said that Aquilina had written to the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General and asked them to inform the court whether he had correctly certified this extract of the inquiry and taken valid oath on it.

Repubblika also referred to a part of the decree where Magistrate Lia described an incident described in the NGO’s application – wherein Pawlu Lia confronted Aquilina about the case – as a “spontaneous meeting.”

In this instance, the NGO said that Magistrate Lia had passed a judgement on the matter without even having heard the testimony of her father in law, Aquilina, or other people at the scene, and that she could therefore “in no legitimate way reach this judgement.”

“It’s obvious that there is reasonable suspicion that Magistrate Lia privately consulted her father in law about this incident.  The suspicion by itself, let alone if this is what happened, is enough of a reason for Magistrate Lia to recuse herself,” the NGO said.

Repubblika expressed its sorrow that the judiciary has been “infected in this most vicious way with the complicity of some of the officials within the institutions which are supposed to be enforcing the law in the fact of the impunity of Joseph Muscat and those close to him.”

“However, like Republikka believes in police and prosecutors of good will, it also believes that many of the members of the judiciary satisfy and want to satisfy their duties with impartiality and properness,” the NGO said.

It is because of this, the NGO said, it will be turning to the Maltese judiciary in order to seek justice, adding that the country deserves that criminals get what they deserve and that what people like Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and the Pilatus Bank directors allegedly did remains hidden.

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