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.