dossier on the rule of law for MEPs that ignores history

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The appointment of magistrates and judges has always been the subject of a public debate with each new appointment.

For decades, various voices have called for a more transparent method that removes the total appointing power given to the Prime Minister by the Constitution.

Some of this criticism was addressed in the last legislature when a new judicial appointing body was created to screen candidates and advise on their suitability.

The new body, however, does little to address the perception of political patronage created by some of the judicial appointments.

A history of political appointments

The labor administration since 2013 has appointed 15 people to the judiciary; 11 of them were in some way linked to the government party, a practice no different from that of the past.

“Political” judicial appointments have been around for ages and came under criticism long before the current wave of public activism for the rule of law. Malta had a chief justice, Gogo Mifsud Bonnici, who was the brother of a minister – Ugo Mifsud Bonnici – in the 1990s.

Whether such appointments are wrong will always be a subjective argument in a small country where everyone is given a political label but the dossier, prepared by anonymous authors, gives the impression that the system was born there. is four years old.

Despite the controversy surrounding these “political” appointments, many members of the legal profession agree that those involved have always risen to the challenge and acted impartially.

It should be noted that Judge Wenzu Mintoff’s first ruling was a ruling against the government that challenged the ombudsman’s mandate to review military complaints.

It is this lack of context that exposes the intention of the authors of the Caruana Galizia report to write a lengthy missive on Muscat’s behavior rather than an honest assessment of the shortcomings or questionable practices that have existed for decades.

Few young people carrying placards and calling for justice would know that Malta had a Prime Minister in the past convicted of human rights violations by the Constitutional Court. And he was not a Labor Prime Minister.

Few would know that two police officers convicted of human rights violations under a Labor administration in the 1980s had been promoted to higher ranks by a new nationalist administration after 1987, only to be removed from the police force by the 1996 Labor administration.

The document is primarily a collection of information from various media, including numerous references to blogs on Caruana Galizia’s Running Commentary.

But another example that belies the narrative behind the report is the reference to Sunday Times of Malta columnist Michela Spiteri, who has been appointed as an adjudicator in the Small Claims Court.

Her sins include editing government documents – which she also did under the previous administration – and “writing pro-Labor newspaper columns”.

The inclusion of this latest statement unveils the underlying belief of the authors of the document that anything pro-Labor is by default “bad” – a belief supported by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The document offers a more sober reading when it attacks the Attorney General in that it recognizes that “no GA in Malta has ever acted against the instructions or the interests of the Prime Minister at the time”.

The report argues that Attorney General Peter Grech refused to use his powers under the Money Laundering Prevention Act to open a criminal investigation against politically exposed persons.

Grech offered an alternative legal interpretation of his powers, which is missing from the report.

That’s not to say that Grech has no explanation to give. It appears that his answers and those of the police commissioner to questions about their legal powers when it comes to investigations have even baffled MEPs.

The president and big business

The president does not emerge unscathed from the report, but a false picture is presented when reference is made to a pardon granted to Labor mayor of Zurrieq, Ignatius Farrugia, in 2016.

The report gives the impression that the president used her discretion to pardon Farrugia, who had been sentenced to four days in prison for harassing Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The truth is that the presiding judge of the Court of Appeal admitted to having made a mistake and immediately asked the president to grant pardon to Farrugia. No discretion was used.

The report makes a pertinent observation that the president’s charitable work on behalf of the Community Chest Fund brings her in close contact with powerful business interests.

The report makes a pertinent observation that the president’s charitable work on behalf of the Community Chest Fund puts her in close contact with powerful business interests.

This is used to highlight a charity dinner the president attended at the controversial Montekristo Estates, which is owned by construction tycoon Charles Polidano.

However, the truth is that every president has had such contacts with powerful business interests as a result of fundraising activities for the Community Chest Fund. The practice is not unique to Coleiro Preca despite the report that suggests it.

Passports, media and Eurovision

In a detailed article on the “Cash for Passports” program, the report reiterates the high risk nature of such programs to attract money launderers and tax evasion.

He also reiterates the allegation from an FIAU compliance report that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, received bribes from Brian Tonna of Nexia BT for the sale of passports. The charge is now the subject of a judicial inquiry requested by then opposition leader Simon Busuttil earlier this year.

Under the headline, The Media, the report points out that Malta does not have a journalism school, but then continues to fuel the general narrative of a pervasive government by suggesting that “the journalism module offered at the University of Malta is taught by the cabinet minister. for education Evarist Bartolo and Adrian Hillman ”.

The statement is factually incorrect because although Bartolo and Hillman are guest speakers, they are not the only ones involved in teaching journalism.

But the report also claims that Schembri co-opted The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta through his links to Hillman – a claim strongly denied by the newspaper’s editors – and MaltaToday through its editor, Savior Balzan.

The report makes no reference to MaltaToday’s calls for Schembri and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi to resign after their names surfaced in the Panama Papers.

For convenience, the report makes no reference to MaltaToday’s calls for the resignation of Schembri and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi after their names surfaced in the Panama Papers.

The report calls Daphne Caruana Galizia Malta “the only effective investigative journalist” and goes on to describe a VAT case against her as an “abusive tax investigation”. Caruana Galizia contested a tax adjustment of 1.3 million euros on unpaid VAT.

In a three-page appendix on Malta’s relations with Azerbaijan – most of which is properly constructed around information from Panama Papers and Paradise Papers – the report adds that in the Eurovision Song Contest Malta awarded to Azerbaijan 12 points every year since 2010.

This is again incorrect, but for the sake of the narrative, it doesn’t really matter to the authors.

Inter, Efimova and the AP

The authors felt it was important to highlight the affiliation of current Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar with the Inter Supporters Club and his friendship with fellow Inter supporter John Zammit. The mention is considered important because Zammit’s daughter, Claude-Anne Sant Fournier heads the legal and compliance office of Banque Pilatus (see clarification below).

The sentence immediately after this implies that Cutajar’s familiarity with Zammit was one of the reasons he did not act on compliance reports issued by Bank Pilatus’ Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.

In a section critical of the government’s failure to protect former Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova – she was Caruana Galizia’s source for the story that Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle was the owner of ‘Egrant – the report has the wrong chronology.

While accusing police of failing to prosecute politically exposed persons reported by FIAU, the report says police “aggressively pursued” the Pilatus whistleblower, accusing her of stealing money. money.

What the report overlooked was the fact that the police charges against Efimova were filed a year before the whole Egrant saga broke, after the bank terminated her employment. The report also fails to note that the police officer who pursued Efimova was Inspector Jonathan Ferris, the man who now claims to have overwhelming evidence against public officials due to his time at FIAU.

The Planning Authority section acknowledges that land permits “have always been used for political patronage”, citing statistics from the period between 1993 and 2016. weeks leading up to the 2017 general election.

This part of the report is perhaps the most accurate interpretation of a perennial situation where the government is dispensing political patronage through building permits.

Close eyes

The section dealing with the Malta Financial Services Authority and its chairman Joe Bannister is an extensive reference to two blogs that dealt with the licensing process of Ta ‘Xbiex-based Pilatus Bank.

The document reiterates the claim that Bannister and the owners of Pilatus were good buddies, which is how the bank allegedly got its license in 2014.

The report rightly notes that Bannister has been the head of the MFSA since 1999, specifically mentioning that he was appointed by former EU commissioner John Dalli.

What he does not question is why Bannister was retained in the same role by different PN and Labor administrations after that, even when it turned out that he was a trustee of several offshore funds held at the Cayman Islands.

But it appears the report’s writers had little interest in looking at events prior to 2013 – with the exception of John Dalli, who features prominently and has an appendix dedicated to himself – or anything to do with it. distance to see with the PN.

In describing government appointees to the Central Bank of Malta, the report correctly describes links to the work of Alfred Mifsud, a former deputy governor, and Mario Vella, the current governor.

But he simply qualifies former governor Josef Bonnici as a “technocrat and professor of economics” without mentioning that he had been minister of the PN.

The section on police forces gives a correct chronology of the five police commissioners who had been in office since March 2013, when the Labor Party was elected to government.

Clarification

Contrary to what the file reports, John Zammit later told this news portal that he had no daughter by the name of Claude-Anne Sant Fournier, nor any daughter or parent who worked or worked at Banque Pilatus. .


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