I’m seeing online comments assuming that, or wondering if, the 20 years struck off the appropriate penalty for Darren Debono it-Topo as a result of his bargain with Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg can be put back now that it’s clear he won’t give evidence against his accomplices in the 2010 HSBC heist.

Aren’t pardons to turn State’s evidence conditional on meeting a set of pre-agreed commitments, such as, by way of example, saying the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Pardons are. But this wasn’t a pardon.

This was a plea bargain which is a system that is not specifically designed to win over witnesses for the prosecution. Its primary objective is to spare the justice system the cost and risk of trials when the accused can, in pursuit of some incentive, spare us all the trouble of proving their guilt by owning up and pleading guilty.

The only condition in that deal is that the accused pleads guilty (to what the prosecutor accuses them). Darren Debono pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and will be serving 10 years instead of the 30 he would have served for the attempted murder of police officers he was now no longer accused of.

So, I hear the same commenters ask, why doesn’t this happen all the time? Why don’t criminals who benefit from a reduced sentence always refuse to cooperate when the deal is done? Because usually the other side, the lawyers that represent us the people, the prosecutors are not being idiots.

Before closing a plea-bargain before a judge, prosecutors take the accused in front of a magistrate and get him to testify under oath behind closed doors, and give all the evidence they would need from them in the open trial against the accused’s accomplices.

If, then, someone who has already sworn to the turns, turns Frank Pentangeli when they’re needed to give evidence in open court, they would know that prosecutors would have them by the balls. Prosecutors would be able to charge them with perjuring themselves and they can prove it by contrasting what the said at the open trial now with what they said to a magistrate under oath before the plea bargain was executed.

Being accused of perjury is different from the charges Darren Debono faced this morning for refusing to testify yesterday. He’s been charged for being a hostile witness which can at worst add a few months of prison to his sentence.

If, however, he could be accused of perjury in a trial for attempted murder he would be facing a harsher punishment, certainly a punishment that would be a deterrent that would discourage him from pulling the stunt Darren Debono is pulling.

After what Darren Debono did yesterday the prosecutors did not present a sworn statement given to a magistrate from before the plea bargain. They did not, as we should have expected – how shall one say this nicely? – publicly shoved Darren Debono’s selectivity with the truth up his criminal arse.

This can only mean one of three things. It could mean that in Darren Debono’s case this standard procedure of getting him to make a statement to a magistrate before closing the plea bargain was not followed. If you want to call that a mistake, it is, in non-technical parlance, criminally negligent.

Alternatively, they did follow procedure, they have the statement in their hands but they did not use it in court against Darren Debono which, in non-technical lingo, is criminally stupid.

Or the third option is they do have the statement but it doesn’t say any more than what Darren Debono was prepared to say yesterday, which is to confirm that Vince Muscat il-Koħħu was at the bank heist and, that’s all.

That would mean that for her reasons, Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg did not ask the simple and inevitable question the magistrate asked in court yesterday, ‘who else was in the conspiracy to rob the HSBC HQ?’

And if you think about it this is the likeliest scenario of the three possible ones. Because Victoria Buttigieg would not want, and would not want anyone, to ask any question the answer to which could be “Chris Cardona and Carmelo Abela”.

In non-technical language this is a crime, against justice, against the police officers that providentially dodged live bullets shot at them by bank robbers who should have gone to Specsavers, and against the people of Malta whose lawyer Victoria Buttigieg is meant to be.

So no, this mess can’t be fixed.