This morning’s decision is obviously very important for Repubblika. It’s not a battle we wanted to fight, nor did we expect to have to fight it. The decision comes on top of layers and layers of piled up injustices the victims of which are not Robert Aquilina or Jason Azzopardi or the committee or the members of Repubblika. The real victims here are the public.
It is worth remembering why all this happened. It wasn’t about Nadine Lia or her father-in-law, that self-pitying grouch Pawlu Lia who represents Joseph Muscat in his legal and political effort to live down justice.
This was about a magisterial inquiry concluded nearly two years ago which cost tax payers over €7 million to write. The cost to the country of the crimes investigated by that inquiry was much, much more than €7 million. Someone one day might try to work out the cost to lost investment, diverted money, squandered earnings, and disappearing profits that happened as a result of allowing one Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad to use Malta for a money laundering operation for the family of the pasha of Azerbaijan and other odd tyrants and crooks from the rest of the world.
Malta’s credibility as a financial services jurisdiction was severely damaged by Pilatus Bank and its forced shut down after the intervention of the European Banking Agency. We were made to look in the eyes of the rest of the world incapable of policing the biggest economic earner of the country. We were made to look like idiots.
We’re not all idiots. The magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank shows that some officials of the state are very capable indeed. The magistrate, investigators, expert witnesses, in fact €7 million worth of expertise gathered the evidence to be used in the prosecution of crimes that have hurt us all even though, unliked the alleged perpetrators, none of us stood to earn a cent from these criminal activities.
The normal course of justice would have led to the prosecution of the alleged perpetrators: Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad and other senior officials. But it didn’t.
So far we’ve dug through enough layers of injustice to infuriate those who were suffering the consequences, if only they were aware of them. It was unjust in the first place to allow Pilatus Bank to start operating. It was unjust to allow it to continue to operate when the stench of dirty money flowing through it became impossible to ignore. When it was shut down and the crimes committed within it were documented with impeccable care and at an enormous cost it was unjust not to act against the alleged perpetrators.
We, Repubblika, waited almost two years to do something about it. We weren’t aware we were waiting for anything for most of that time because there’s another injustice in the design of the system. Magisterial inquiries are supposed to be secret for reasons that are eminently understandable. You don’t want to inform suspected criminals beforehand that charges against them are being considered ahead of their arrest or arraignment.
But the secrecy in the system is abused when under its cover institutions do not do their job and allow perpetrators to continue undisturbed. That’s yet another injustice. That’s why we went to court, to address the injustice of freezing the process of securing justice on the earlier injustices.
Only to find, as today’s court ruled, yet another injustice thrown at us. Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey was not today determining whether our right to a fair hearing was breached when Magistrate Nadine Lia refused three requests from Repubblika to recuse herself. That decision lies somewhere in the future, though frankly at this point the matter has become moot. Because the judge left no one in doubt that Nadine Lia’s stubborn decisions to remain on top of this case fell abysmally short of the fundamental requirement that justice must be seen to be done.
Devastatingly, the judge applied the criteria Magistrate Nadine Lia herself used when she decided on four separate occasions in the past to recuse herself. Why, he asked, did you do the right thing and recuse yourself then, and not now?
The presumption, as Judge Spiteri Bailey commented today, is that no matter her connections Magistrate Nadine Lia is impartial. But that’s not enough. Though no one has the right to choose who judges their case, everyone has a right to expect for the person deciding their case to appear, not merely to be, impartial.
Nadine Lia cannot appear impartial. It’s not just that she’s the daughter in law of Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, and Joseph Muscat has every interest to let the sleeping dogs at Pilatus Bank, including one old hound called Egrant, lie. It is that. But it isn’t just that.
What follows is my comment, not the judge’s, and I’m doing more than paraphrasing when I say this. The obstinacy and the clumsiness with which Nadine Lia handled Repubblika’s requests for her recusal confirmed over and over again that Repubblika was eminently justified to perceive Nadine Lia as hostile to them, to us, and to our cause.
Magistrate Nadine Lia will have read in the court’s decision today that the court compared the facts as she told them in one of her formal decrees and the version of the same events told by Robert Aquilina and, for that matter, journalists who personally witnessed those events.
A silly incident where a magistrate stormed out of the room pretending not to see a lawyer’s finger asking for permission to speak, a little elementary school drama, took an altogether sinister turn. The court’s decision to discredit the magistrate’s version of events is more than an expression of displeasure for her behaviour. It is an indictment of her credibility. She was not believed.
I can’t see how Nadine Lia can serenely go back to work tomorrow after that decision today. Frankly, I would say, she shouldn’t go back to work at all.
In separate proceedings she rejected another request for her recusal by Robert Aquilina in the prosecution of someone accused of threatening him. Having read Judge Spiteri Bailey’s decision, can Nadine Lia sincerely continue to believe that she is suitably placed to hand down judgement in this other case and appear to be doing so with impartiality?
The question is barely rhetorical because I have met no one who defended the notion or seen anywhere the notion being argued that by Repubblika’s second request for her recusal, Nadine Lia had any earthly reason to stay on. Except of course in the attempt by Pawlu Lia to bully Robert Aquilina and in the decrees of Nadine Lia herself.
As I have taken pains to explain here, putting Nadine Lia on the spot was not something Repubblika set out to do, whatever she might believe or her father-in-law might say about the matter. Any apparent conflict could and should have been addressed the first time Repubblika pointed the issue out. Yet she kept taking it further and further, escalating this to a battle of wits which she ultimately lost.
For us this has been a frustrating and unjust waste of time. There we were several months ago complaining in court that so much time had passed since the completion of the Pilatus inquiry without anything happening that we needed to take the matter to court. Here we are so long after still waiting for a magistrate to be identified to hear the reasons for our original complaint.
That’s the final layer of injustice that completes this archaeology of utter futility, the fact that so much time has gone by without any significant progress on what really matters here.
One final observation.
The crimes committed at Pilatus Bank were only investigated because Daphne Caruana Galizia and her sources within it exposed what was happening there at great risk and consequence to themselves.
It is the same sense of public duty, even at the cost of considerable personal sacrifice, that Repubblika are acting on what the inquiry into those crimes has determined. This has taken and will continue to require multiple legal battles, long hours of legal work, many days spent inside the court building, a stubborn persistence that few people have time for.
We acknowledge the example of Daphne Caruana Galizia and follow it, stubborn but never smug.
Though we’re obviously delighted with today’s decision, we at Repubblika are not gloating over the ruling. We’re asking people though to remember why we do this. We stand to gain nothing personally from favourable decisions in the Pilatus case. We risk drawing the ire of people like Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad who are equipped with resources we could never dream of equalling and a trigger-happiness to push aside people they perceive in their way, while staying very much in their way.
But we know the Maltese public, even that guy who writes on Facebook to say we should be hanged in a square, deserve justice and we’ll be there fighting for it.