The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Vitals charges pushed back by a week after prosecutors contest notification argument

Monday, 10 June 2024, 18:11 Last update: about 3 days ago

The Vitals Global Healthcare scandal-related re-arraignment of former deputy prime minister Chris Fearne, Central Bank Governor and former finance minister Edward Scicluna and 13 others has been pushed back to next week, in view of an application filed by the prosecution.

The 15 defendants were originally summoned to be charged in court on 29 May, but at 8pm, some 11 hours into the arraignment, the proceedings were declared null after the lawyers representing one of the defendants - law firm DF Advocates - claimed that the firm had not been validly notified with amended charges.

This claim is now being challenged in an application that was filed by prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General, who point out that the lawyers representing DF Advocates had themselves declared that they were appearing on its behalf at the very beginning of the sitting, at 11am. The prosecutors are arguing that the firm appeared to have decided, at 8pm, that it was no longer represented and had raised this issue with the court.

The application asks the court to declare that, contrary to the submissions made by the defence, DF Advocates had, in fact, been legally represented and implies that the court had been misled.

The prosecutors are expected to argue that the ramifications of DF Advocates being protected from prosecution simply because it is a law firm and not a company would be far-reaching, and that this would potentially create a loophole whereby money laundering can be carried out through a firm, with no one being answerable for that conduct.

The removal of a separate company with a similar name, DF Corporate Advisory, from the charge sheet had nothing to do with DF Advocates, argued the prosecutors, requesting that the law firm remain on the charge sheet and that the court rescind its declaration of nullity - and to order the case to continue from where it had left off.

Magistrate rebukes prosecutors over the timing of their application

In a sternly-worded decree adjourning the sitting, that had originally been intended to take place tomorrow, till Monday morning in order to consider the prosecution’s requests, Magistrate Leonard Caruana rebuked the prosecution for filing the request on Thursday, before a public holiday  and a weekend, and so close to the date of the next sitting.

Given the large number of defendants and the short space of time before the next sitting, the court said that it was humanly impossible for it to give the request the thought it required in time for the next hearing.

The magistrate warned the parties that if something like this were to happen again, he would not be taking judicial notice of the application.

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