2022 and a second and a third man have been convicted for killing Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 this year. Their conviction followed their freely given admission in court which is as close as it is possible to be to a certain and definitive conclusion to their case. Let’s hope so.
The man accused of hiring them, and other men accused of conspiring with them in the murder, await trial. Some of the things he and others said keep alive the suspicion that this murder conspiracy was wider, and some people’s hope of escaping justice is fed by the passage of time.
We know for a fact that this year went by without anyone facing charges for the crimes Daphne Caruana Galizia exposed and was killed for exposing. The power station that came to be because its lead promoter bribed the most influential decision makers of the government, continues to make money for that promoter even if he’s been living in prison for some years waiting to be tried for murder.
That alleged murderer’s phone has been with the police for 4 years now. It was a treasure trove of evidence and not just of murder. He used his phone to dangle carrots in front of the planning chief. If that case has been investigated, we’ve heard nothing. Not from the authorities anyway.
Nor did we hear from the authorities that Yorgen Fenech had fingers deep in the EU-funded layered cake of the Marsa Road junction. As usual it had to be the press, Times of Malta in this case, who had to tell us the EU was looking into the evidence. Robert Abela said it didn’t matter. He does that.
In the meantime, Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers, Charles Mercieca, and Gianluca Caruana Curran, were allowed to stay in business after they were acquitted of the charge of attempting to bribe a journalist to write nice about their client. There was no disputing the facts. They asked the journalist to write nice and they handed over a thick wad of €500 notes with no discussion about invoicing, accounting for VAT, and somehow justifying the payment. It was a bribe, but they were charged under the wrong clause of the law, so the magistrate let them walk.
Call it the year that wasn’t then. The year that wasn’t the one when this country got serious about tackling corruption and outgrowing the execrable shame of killing a journalist to cover it up.
It wasn’t the year when the owner and the directors of Pilatus Bank faced charges for their documented crimes either. Malta told the world that this is the place to hide your past, re-invest proceeds of crime, and open a bank to help tyrants and embezzlers to launder their money. Try not to get caught, and we’ll help you cover your tracks. But if you are caught nothing will happen to you. We’ll make sure of that by making people like Peter Grech and Victoria Buttigieg chief prosecutors and people like Lawrence Cutajar and Angelo Gafà police commissioners.
We’ll also appoint people like Nadine Lia as magistrates to review the failures of people like Gafà. For this was the year that an NGO’s effort to push for justice in the Pilatus case was thwarted by a puppet mouthing the quivering fist of Joseph Muscat’s right hand, her father-in-law. This was the year the dubious system of having judges decide themselves if they are too impartial to hear a case has gone up to the constitutional court where we hope to get an answer next year.
This was the year when Robert Abela said it didn’t matter. Did I mention he does that? It didn’t matter, for example, that he pocketed money for giving a personal alibi to a family of wealthy Russians lying to the government he runs about living in Malta to get a Maltese passport. He told his own government the Russians lived in his property when they never did.
Robert Abela said it didn’t matter that he received in his office Charles iċ-Ċaqnu Polidano a few days after Polidano was arrested and questioned over suspected money laundering and corruption. “His office” does not refer to Robert Abela’s old private practice as attorney to crooks. “His office” reference to the Auberge de Castille, our very own Number 10, where people suspected by the police of bribing politicians get behind closed doors meetings with politicians.
This was the year a government minister was linked to a driving theory test corruption case involving three Transport Malta officials. The minister remains formally unnamed and completely unharmed. Unqualified drivers plague our roads while a new committee was set up to wonder aloud why so many people die on our roads.
Other transport Malta officials were filmed beating an unarmed and unresisting man lying prostate on the ground. One of them was Ian Borg’s canvasser. But that didn’t matter because the man on the ground was not born here. Three police officers were charged for picking up people not born here for random beatings in dark alleys. One of the police officers failed tests to join the force but Minister Byron Camilleri helped him get through even the most basic filters to choose reasonably competent police officers. Byron Camilleri feels no responsibility that an unqualified police officers he helped recruit was unleashed on innocent victims in the street.
These are things we heard of. Who knows what we never hear of? Exceptionally one Sigmund Mifsud, erstwhile Labour Party candidate and host of a national orchestra rendering of Joseph Kim Ma Tagħmlu Xejn mal-Invictus Muscat’s favourite tunes, was caught covering up evidence of sexual harassment in his government department. He’s now facing charges. It may take years before he’s acquitted, poor man.
Perhaps as many as it will have taken for Tancred Tabone to be acquitted, charged in 2013 with taking kickbacks while working as government official and still awaiting sentence while his used-to-be-alleged accomplices are each in turn acquitted.
That gives hope to John Dalli who may yet live to see his name cleared after the collapse of the prosecution that started this year on the back of a charge sheet written in 2012. It took almost 10 years to even start the case against him. If the quality of the case is anything like the case against his daughters for pocketing money he (allegedly) helped swindle from little old unsuspecting American ladies he has reason to be hopeful. He’d rather have had Ali Sadr’s deal of implicit immunity but even John Dalli can’t always have it his own way.
This was the year of insane Planning Authority decisions, but then again which year isn’t? The courts found the decision to allow the old Sea Malta building to be demolished as unlawful. How’s that compared to an ATM booth permitted to grow treble the permitted size or a restaurant allowed to stay in business for 9 years entirely permit-free?
While we argue about how large an ATM booth should be the country is flooded by bottle-returning machines that may or may not be linked to Keith Schembri’s interests. They are not linked to the public’s interest though. People are wondering what to do with more bottles than they can carry or bottles the local machine is not willing to take, finding they have had to pay a tax for failing to comply with the scheme when all they wanted to do was comply to begin with.
This was the year the government ignored recommendations drawn up by the OECD to avoid conflicts of interest. Meanwhile Miriam Dalli hired George Vella’s granddaughter on a consultancy job while fresh out of school because that’s all right.
This was a year when the government ignored all manner of recommendations to improve its rule of law record. The following is from Repubblika’s assessment of “progress” since the EU’s rule of law assessment of Malta’s performance in 2021:
“In spite of the announcement of several policy initiatives by the Maltese authorities referred to in the 2022 rule of law report none of them have so far led to any material improvements to the principal issues raised by the report.
- The selection of the Chief Justice remains political.
- The executive exercises discretion on the removal from the record of criminal cases.
- The transition of prosecutions from the police to the prosecution service is halting and a marked deterioration in the quality of prosecutions particularly in cases of financial crimes is palpable.
- Specialised tribunals without normal safeguards for separation of powers remain in place.
- The administration of the justice system remains antiquated and relatively free of digital systems while waiting times for decisions increase.
- The state has still not prosecuted crimes of corruption that are now 7 years old and documented by the Panama Papers and Daphne Caruana Galizia. Meanwhile the government has rejected proposals for anti-corruption and anti-mafia laws recommended by the Daphne Independent Inquiry.
- Public sector recruitment ‘on trust’ remain rampant bypassing legal requirements of independence.
- The public audit function remains under-resourced and follow up on recommendations nearly never happens.
- Malta continues to unlawfully sell passports to oligarchs unconnected with the country before or after they become its citizens.
- The authorities have attempted to impose new press laws without public consultation. Though the adoption of the laws has been suspended no consultation has started yet.
- No progress has been achieved in improving the regulation and conduct of public broadcasting, in transparency in media ownership, and on the regulation of public spending on advertising and PR.
- Freedom of Information rules continue to be respected merely in the breach and media organisations are forced to spend large sums of money to defend appeals by the government contesting FOI awards granted by lower tribunals.
- Security provided by the police to journalists and activists has been unilaterally withdrawn without explanation.
- The Protection of Whistleblowers Act remains unusable and not a single case has applied it since an attempt by the authorities, rejected by the courts, to use the law to frame an opposition politician. The authorities continue to reject repeated calls for consultation on improvements to the law.
- The Constitutional Convention announced in 2012 has still not been summoned while the government has passed through Parliament in this period several piecemeal changes to the constitution without any form of cohesive public consultation.
- Independent offices such as the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life have been weakened as their headships have been left unreplaced after the expiry of the terms of previous holders of the offices.
- There has been no discussion on applying universally redress given consistently by the courts on similar cases, particularly in cases of complaints of abusive possession of private properties by the authorities.”
In sum, it’s been a year like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one before that again, right back to 2013.
“Meanwhile, Repubblika has been active in its effort to push for reform.
- On the anti-corruption front we are challenging in the courts the conduct of the police and the decisions of the prosecution service not to prosecute after the Pilatus Bank scandal that exposed systemic money laundering.
- We are also leading a class action suit seeking a declaration of a breach of the right to property as the government persists in honouring the scandal ridden Electrogas contract for energy.
- We are also managing human rights complaints regarding fair hearing by the specialist tribunal deciding on appeals on rejected freedom of information requests after the presiding officer resigned on the eve of a general election on the grounds that they served at the pleasure of the government, another party in the same case.
- Another human rights complaint concerns the chilling effect on press freedom of a decision by the court of appeal that has the effect of penalising commentary that can suggest mafia links of persons in public life.
- Another ongoing complaint concerns restrictions to the press for access to inspect living conditions in civil prisons and places of detention.
- We have also taken legal initiatives that led to the launch of magisterial inquiry into alleged corruption in the privatisation of public hospitals in Malta.”
It’s been a year like any other, and like any other year we’ve been busy.