The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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Magisterial inquiry: PM does not exclude Muscat was presumed guilty

Semira Abbas Shalan Tuesday, 14 May 2024, 15:16 Last update: about 12 days ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela said Tuesday that it is only now that, for the first time, Joseph Muscat is starting off as presumed innocent, hinting that at the beginning of the magisterial inquiry which looked into the Vitals deal he had started off as presumed guilty.

“Until now, I cannot swear that there was the presumption of innocence with regard to Muscat,” he said. “I will not say that there was a presumption of guilt but I do not exclude it,” he added.

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Asked by The Malta Independent whether he believes that Muscat is innocent, Abela said that this is a “judgement that must be made by the Courts who will be hearing his case.”

Abela said that the presumption of innocence must be protected if we truly believe in the rule of law, and that it should not work against the individual. He said that Muscat, and others who are also facing criminal charges, should start on the presumption of innocence.

When pressed if he personally believed Muscat was innocent, Abela said that while the question should not have been made, he would answer anyway.

“If I had to answer your question, regardless if it is in the affirmative or negative, the first thing you would say is that the Prime Minister is intruding on a judicial function, substituting the magistrate’s or judge’s discretion,” Abela said.

He remarked that when Eddie Fenech Adami was asked a similar question on a case of two judges who were to appear before the courts, the then Prime Minister had commented, and his remarks had then been scrutinised by the Court, even European ones, resulting in a breach of rights.

“The worst thing I can do is comment on the merit of the case,” the PM said, adding that he has commented about the procedure, “just as I will comment that it is not at all pleasing that an ex-Permanent Secretary, who is facing criminal charges and has described them as a death sentence, was not spoken to in the four years and a half of the inquiry,” Abela said.

He said that everyone must depart on the presumption of innocence and to be able to safeguard their position, while leaving the judicial process to continue.

Asked about comments Bernard Grech made outside Parliament on Monday, where the Opposition Leader said that Abela seemed to only be interested in saving himself in this ordeal, Abela that his only interest is to see to it that the country keeps progressing, mentioning the multi-million investment between government and the private sector in the semiconductor industry.

Asked by the media if it is right for governor of the Central Bank of Malta Edward Scicluna to retain his roles, even European ones, despite facing criminal charges, Abela again defended Scicluna, saying that he will not request his resignation.

Abela reiterated his stance on Scicluna, saying that he was involved in the economy’s growth when he was Finance Minister, when the country’s finances were “on their knees in 2013.”

He said that the governor has his full support, and on questions if Scicluna’s current position risks damaging Malta’s reputation, Abela said that the magisterial inquiry’s contents, once published, should be examined to determine if his charges were recommended purely because he was Finance Minister.

Abela said Scicluna’s potential resignation was incomparable to that of former Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne’s, who resigned a week ago.

Abela also said he was “shocked” to learn that some of the accused had never been interrogated, and questioned if this is the way things are done in the country. 

He spoke and hinted on possible reforms on magisterial inquiry procedures, saying that a “total revision” in the way that magisterial inquiries are conducted was one of the recommendations of the Venice Commission which government had not implemented.

Abela said that what happened to the accused can happen to anyone, at any given time.

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