Point 4: Despite the magistrate’s best efforts, the inquiry can only be a sham

Published: April 22, 2017 at 2:48pm

This morning the Prime Minister and his Minister Within the Office of the Prime Minister went to the Courts of Justice, having been summoned by the inquiring magistrate.

The inquiring magistrate is Aaron Bugeja, who was appointed by Muscat’s government post 2013. Regardless of his independence and impartiality, it would have been better for all concerned, in terms of public perception, if the inquiring magistrate were not somebody appointed by Muscat himself so recently.

Yesterday, the a police officer from the Fraud Squad rang to summon me to speak to the inquiring magistrate at noon at the Courts of Justice. It was 11am, and I was working at my home, from which it takes 90 minutes just to drive in to Valletta, find somewhere to park, walk in to the Courts and go through security. (I hasten to add that she was extremely polite and nice.)

I told her that this was impossible, that I was working, and that it is only the subjects of an investigation, not others, who can be ordered to drop everything and go immediately for interrogation, and even then, they have to be under arrest because otherwise it is by mutually convenient appointment.

I explained that if the inquiring magistrate wishes to speak to me about matters related to an inquiry, given that I am not the subject of the inquiry then the proper procedure is for him to write to me formally, and then I will in turn formally respond to the request, through my lawyer, explaining that any such meeting would be pointless, because everything that I wish to report is already on my website and the rest is covered by the law on the protection of journalists’ sources.

The police officer rang back after speaking to the magistrate, telling me that I had an order to go at noon, because that is when he wished to speak to me, and that the police could come and pick me up to save time.

I replied that they would most certainly not do anything of the sort, that I had already explained why it would be out of the question for me to drop everything and come running, and that if the magistrate wished to jump through hoops to conclude everything quickly because that’s what the Prime Minister wants, he could jump through hoops alone because I wasn’t going to jump with him. Nor was I going to allow a police car to pick me up because we don’t live in Zimbabwe.

I should point out that despite my clear and obvious anger – outrage would be a better word – the police officer remained calm and polite and at no point became heavy-handed or threatening. I mention this because I have had to deal with some seriously unpleasant police officers.

I also said that I think it wrong for a journalist to talk to an inquiring magistrate or to the police, because journalists depend on having the full trust of their sources by doing nothing that might make them fear they are breaching confidentiality and putting them at risk, even just the appearance of it.

And I said to the police officer that, as a member of the Fraud Squad, she more than others should know that the inquiry cannot possibly be anything other than a sham, because the order for it was given only after large trolleys of documents were seen being taken out of the offices of Nexia BT (but not caught on film), and the Pilatus Bank chairman and his risk manager were filmed carrying large bags out of the bank’s offices that looked very much like they contained documents. I wouldn’t like my name associated with a sham inquiry.

Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad – when he was caught on film taking two large bags out of the bank’s premises after nine o’clock at night. A couple of hours later, the Prime Minister announced that he had given orders for an inquiry.




13 Comments Comment

  1. Mister says:

    How does the duty magistrate work? Is it the same person for weeks or a different person every day?

    Does the time when Joseph Muscat call on the duty magistrate determine the person who is given the task?

    Im only asking as it seems that he called the duty magistrate to start an investigation first thing in the morning, of the next day. If he called on the duty magistrate the day before, would it have been still Aaron Bugeja?

  2. Perhaps Antoniella Gauci was spoken to at the bank itself.

  3. Joe Grech says:

    I find the magistrate’s request (or rather order) that Mrs. Caruana Galizia should present herself to him quite extraordinary. Hardly how such things should be done. She was so right to refuse to go under the circumstances.

    • M Vassallo says:

      What also baffles me in this country of ours is how Nexia BT now known to have orchestrated all this Panama corruption still has an accounting and audit licence.

  4. Louis Amato-Gauci says:

    And while he’s at it, why not also have a chat with the crew of Flight VTJ647, which left Malta on April 21, 2017, the VistaJet employees who were involved in coordinating that flight, and the ground crew and staff of the Airport VIP lounge who were on duty at the time?

    • This Maltese business of ‘magisterial inquiries’ is beyond ridiculous. Magistrates in Malta should never have an investigative function or role because they are not trained in investigation.

      Take this magistrate, for example. One minute he’s a humdrum lawyer dealing with ordinary clients in the course of his daily professional practice, and the next he’s a magistrate investigating a massive, but massive, corruption scandal involving the prime minister, top level government politicians, the ruler of Azerbaijan, and an entire corrupt accountancy outfit, all centred round a shady bank set up by an Iranian in his early 30s with quadruple passports issued by St Kitts & Nevis. So help us God.

  5. That’s a technicality I’ve not been able to fix. The ruddy thing is stuck on UTC.

  6. Absolutely not. Even I would probably do a better job, because I certainly have more experience in investigating stuff.

  7. You don’t need to guess. All you need to do is COLLATE THE FACTS AND ASSESS THEM, something that Maltese people are not trained to do because of the hopeless education system and disastrous training in homes while growing up.

    Muscat decided on Thursday to hold a sham inquiry. It was convenient, because the magistrate on duty was the first he appointed, in June 2013, which indicates some kind of relationship with Labour.

    Nexia BT cleared out their documents during the day. They were spotted by people who work in other offices in the same building.

    But Pilatus Bank couldn’t do that, because the owner doesn’t live in Malta. They had to wait for him to fly in from wherever. He said himself that he had come straight from the airport when journalists door-stepped him with the bags he was carrying out of the office at around 9pm.

    Once that was done, Muscat announced his inquiry at the highly unusual hour of around 11.30pm. He couldn’t wait until the next day because another magistrate would be on duty.

  8. What on earth are you saying? The real Labour supporters are the worst. They’re the kind who, given the choice – TWICE – between Eddie Fenech Adami and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, voted for the latter. Those people, I hasten to add, included Joseph Muscat and his parents.

  9. The very last thing I would say about Busuttil is that he is vindictive. He is so not a bitch, and Muscat so is.

  10. JOURNALISTS DO NOT WORK FOR THE POLICE AND NOR ARE THEY A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE INVESTIGATIVE AUTHORITIES. PEOPLE DO NOT GET PROSECUTED AND CONVICTED ON PROOF AND EVIDENCE FROM JOURNALISTS BUT ON PROOF AND EVIDENCE BROUGHT BY THE POLICE AS A RESULT OF THEIR INVESTIGATIONS. THIS IS A DEMOCRACY – FIGHT FOR YOUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO PROPER SYSTEMS OF INVESTIGATION INSTEAD OF DEMANDING THAT A JOURNALIST – RATHER THAN THE POLICE – INVESTIGATES THE PRIME MINISTER. AND I AM SORRY TO USE CAPITAL LETTERS BUT YOU’D THINK THAT IN 52 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE MALTESE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT EUROPEAN DEMOCRACY.

  11. What on earth are you on about. The Opposition has no role to play in an inquiry brought at the behest of the Prime Minister.

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