Something very strange has happened in the background of the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who is accused of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In early December, Philip Galea Farrugia, Deputy Attorney General, filed a note in court complaining that Simon Mercieca was repeatedly attacking him, undermining him and assaulting his credibility merely because he was doing the job of representing the state in a case against a murder suspect.
He was still waiting for an answer when on 28 December, Philip Galea Farrugia heard the presiding magistrate Rachel Montebello read out a decree in response to an application filed by Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers on 16 December. Neither the deputy attorney general, nor the police prosecuting the case, nor lawyers appearing for the victim’s family had ever heard of, let alone read, the application filed by Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers.
Yet the magistrate was ready to hand down her decision. She decreed that Simon Mercieca’s posts on the prosecutor amounted to contempt of court because any attack on lawyers is an attack on court officials and therefore amounts to contempt. That wasn’t what Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers were asking for.
The magistrate also ruled that a post by the satirical website “bis-serjeta.com” written by the fictitious Karl Stennienibarra also amounted to contempt of court because he spoke of Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers as “mafia lawyers”.
The rest of Magistrate Montebello’s ruling issued “recommendations” to the media on covering Yorgen Fenech’s case. She “recommended”, for example, that individuals (such as myself) do not comment or report on the compilation against Yorgen Fenech. She said she is ok with reporting by media houses but not by individuals. Presumably, she believes you are going to get reporting that is more loyal to the truth on One TV than on this website.
I feel I should tell you that I will be ignoring that recommendation.
I will also be ignoring the recommendation on not commenting on or analysing what is coming out of the evidence against Yorgen Fenech.
Until today I held back on giving strong comment in reaction to Rachel Montebello’s end-of-year decree. That was because until today I had not seen what “offending” coverage she was referring to when she was deciding on what she should recommend should not be written.
Today I saw copies of the reports that Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers attached to their December 16th complaint to the court. They said at the time that the reporting they were attaching prejudiced Yorgen Fenech’s fundamental right to a fair trial. They called the reporting “prejudicial” and “unbalanced against” Yorgen Fenech. The reporting, they said, “stains Yorgen Fenech’s reputation and is prejudicial, hindering the proceedings against him.”
On top of the pile of the reports he attached is an article I wrote on this website: “Yorgen Fenech’s and Robert Abela’s converging interests”. The article was about how both Yorgen Fenech and Robert Abela have an interest in seeing that the inquiry into the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia is cut short.
Yorgen Fenech did not want me to write that article. His lawyers complained to the court that by writing that article I was prejudging Yorgen Fenech’s fundamental rights. The magistrate recommended that I would not write such an article, or, given that I’m an individual, not a media house, any article on the subject at all.
I feel I should tell you that I will be ignoring that recommendation too.
Mine was far from the only “offending” article.
They complained about Newsbook reports on Jason Azzopardi’s personal conviction that the man charged with killing the relative of his clients is indeed guilty and he should be right where he is, in the dock. Yorgen Fenech didn’t want you to read that. Magistrate Rachel Montebello seems to agree.
Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers complained about a Malta Today report of a statement by Arnold Cassola that demanded that Minister Michael Farrugia “come clean” on his meeting with Yorgen Fenech on the eve of the change of policy that permitted the Imrieħel towers. They complained about a similar Lovin Malta report that noted other connections between Michael Farrugia and Yorgen Fenech. Yorgen Fenech didn’t want you to read that. Magistrate Rachel Montebello seems to agree.
Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers complained about a Times of Malta report that revealed that then MFSA chairman Joe Cuschieri went on a trip to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech in 2018. Yorgen Fenech didn’t want you to read that. Magistrate Rachel Montebello seems to agree.
Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers complained about an Illum report about WhatsApp conversations between Yorgen Fenech and Cabinet ministers that exposed the proximity between government and business in this country. Yorgen Fenech didn’t want you to read that. Magistrate Rachel Montebello seems to agree.
Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers complained about a Facebook comment by Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister Corinne Vella on a Newsbook report about the deal between Apap Bologna and Gasan “to pay Yorgen Fenech €2.5 million ‘for interfacing with authorities’.” They complained about a Facebook post by Matthew Caruana Galizia criticising police inaction on the email of the SOCAR official involved in the Electrogas conspiracy with Yorgen Fenech and Konrad Mizzi. Yorgen Fenech didn’t want you to read that. Magistrate Rachel Montebello seems to agree.
To be fair to the magistrate she did not try to ban this sort of coverage and commentary. But without giving the prosecutor, the attorney general and lawyers appearing for the victim the opportunity to comment, she took sides with Yorgen Fenech’s assault on the right of every citizen in this country to know what he’s been up to.
Because this is where we stand. It seems that the magistrate would not have wanted coverage on the Electrogas scandal, the Montenegro windfarm scandal, the mistakes, accidental or wilful, in the murder investigation, and the corrupt relationships between Yorgen Fenech and people in public life.
The fact of the matter is we cannot have a functioning democracy if these matters the public must know about are kept from it whether by some court order or due to the chilling effect which is consequential to a court’s “recommendations”. Some people will be inclined to restrain themselves purely because they generally prefer to obey the direction given by a court. Some people will be rather chilled by the treatment being faced by “Karl Stennienibarra”.
The false equivalence with Simon Mercieca is also chilling. There is simply no comparison between what Simon Mercieca wrote and has been writing with anything bis-serjeta.com or any of the other “offending” articles said.
Put simply, truthful, fact-based, honest and balanced reporting will never put Yorgen Fenech in a good light. That’s nobody’s fault except Yorgen Fenech’s. The idea that as journalists we must remain silent about the truth because we can’t risk Yorgen Fenech look bad is abhorrent in the extreme.
There’s only one way I can think of, of dealing with this new, strange development. Ignore it.