We have slid down so far that we are reduced to hoping Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is an incompetent, bungling idiot who has been promoted way beyond her dubious abilities because the only alternative horrifies us too much to say aloud: that she is a bespectacled tentacle of the mafia, a complicit agent of crime.
Frankly it doesn’t matter what we prefer to think because she won’t bother to correct it. Whatever thick skin protects what must be her translucent shed scales of an ego is enough for her to deflect any and all outrage and move on to her next mess.
This morning a magistrate ruled on a case brought in front of her by the police two years ago. Two lawyers who work for Yorgen Fenech, the crime lord charged with ordering and paying for the killing of a journalist, met another journalist to try to get positive coverage for their boss. As part of the conversation, they presented the journalist with a thick wad of cash. The journalist declined the money and reported the incident to his editor and then to the police.
By and large these facts are not contested. In their defence the lawyers did not say it was not true they produced money in their conversation with the journalist. They said they committed no crime because they thought it was normal for people meeting a journalist to pay them money.
It is important to underline at this point that the magistrate disagreed with this view. Which means that since the facts are uncontested and the crime as it is defined in our law did in fact occur, the outcome should have been the conviction of the accused, a personal setback for themselves no doubt, but more importantly the state would have drawn a line in the sand and told Yorgen Fenech he’s not to go around threatening journalists with the implicit consequences of rejecting his money.
The lawyers’ claim that they thought it was ‘normal’ to pay journalists cash just for having met them is as credible as any claim the AG might make, if she was the sort that bothers, that what followed was an innocent mistake. What followed was that in her final set of accusations against the lawyers instead of accusing them of having tried to pay a bribe (which is the crime the prosecution had by then proven) she accused them of having received a bribe, which they manifestly didn’t do.
This is so absurdly wrong that the word ‘mistake’ just doesn’t apply. She didn’t drink Diet Coke when she thought she was drinking Pepsi Max. She fed the court shit and told them it was chocolate.
The court expressed sympathy with the police inspector who prosecuted the case. Yesterday we read that same inspector left the police force in frustration. It does not necessarily follow that he left because of today’s mess but today’s mess gives him no reason to stay on.
The actors in this episode may have a different way of describing what this really means but I will explain it to you the way I understand it.
A mafia boss presented a journalist with an option, as Pablo Escobar would have put it, plata o plomo. Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca presumably did not use the Spanish phrase which translates as “take the money or take a bullet”. They just offered the money. But the money came from someone who has already allegedly killed a journalist who had been in his way. Yorgen Fenech denies it but the evidence against him is compelling enough for the message that the alternative to taking the bribe was too horrible to contemplate was an implicit consequence of the identity of the person making the offer.
What did Ivan Martin do? He didn’t just ‘not take the money’, which is an honest act of courage in and of itself. He reported the incident to the authorities. He was the witness for the prosecution in this case spending two years appearing in court as an honest citizen increasing the risk he was perfectly entitled to perceive the day he was offered the money.
This supposed error by the Attorney General means the risk he took was for nothing. Rather the outcome tells Ivan Martin and anyone who can find themselves in the same situation in the future, that the path he took, of reporting the incident and of giving evidence in open court, was the wrong path to take.
Understand the chilling effect here not just on journalists but on all people whose civic duty requires them to stop the mafia. Think of the police inspector in this case who prosecuted Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers only to find they are walking free because the Attorney General worked in their interests rather the interests of the Maltese state. No wonder he’s walking away from this business and going for something that pays him more and demands nothing like the sort of risks he needs to take as a police inspector.
Journalists, policemen, magistrates, civil servants everywhere today have been warned by the chief prosecutor of the country to shut up if they’re offered a bribe. Implicitly she told us all to take the money and happily work for the mafia because if we don’t we’re on our own. She doesn’t have our back.
It is really generous of people to still hope she’s dumb because logic dictates that she’s taken the money Ivan Martin refused. I know what I’m writing amounts to a very, very serious accusation, one I cannot begin to materially prove. I am drawing inferences from circumstances which are insufficient to judge anyone, I admit that.
But Victoria Buttigieg is supposed to work for us. The Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry has already indicted the republic for systemically failing to protect journalists. Victoria Buttigieg wasn’t the AG when Daphne was killed, she was the number 2, and her personal failures were documented in the inquiry.
If she felt any remorse and developed any intention to rectify and avoid any repetition of the disaster that cost Daphne her life, she’s not showing it. We’re entitled to be angry and we’re entitled to suspect her enough to want her out.
This is also very serious for another reason. If this country got everything but its Attorney General right, we’ll have no improvement to our very dangerous situation. If we had a top-notch police chief, zealous investigators at the police, indefatigable magistrates drawing up the best possible inquiry reports, judges willing to risk all to lock up mafia bosses, and we had a bent Attorney General the entire justice system would still manage to do nothing against crime.
The Attorney General alone decides whether a case is prosecuted. You might think that point is academic given that the AG in this case did decide to prosecute, only for the wrong things altogether. But inasmuch as no one can do anything about an AG’s wrongful decision not to prosecute, no one can do anything about an AG’s decision to prosecute wrongfully.
The Attorney General faces no consequences for allowing Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers to walk free “on a technicality”, which is a polite way of saying they got off on the back of a suspicious fuck up that accommodates exquisitely Yorgen Fenech and his operators.
When a magistrate fucks up, someone somewhere might have the right to appeal in a higher court, especially if there’s been an error on a point of law.
There’s nowhere to go after the Attorney General makes an ‘error’. Which is why an Attorney General may feel perfectly comfortable making an error on purpose. No one can ask them anything after that.
I understand the police inspector walking away. I understand journalists, civil servants, ordinary citizens feeling today as they’re made to feel too often in this country, that all hope that we have the means of emerging from the hole we’re stuck in is misguided, it’s a fool’s hope, it’s a false hope.
It’s a happy day for Yorgen Fenech. It gives him much to look forward to. A few more “mistakes” like this and he’ll be getting Ġieħ ir-Repubblika and a fat cheque compensating him for inconvenience.