Chief judge laments muzzled watchdog
Journalists had secretly filmed Maltese officials
Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri has lamented the “unhappy state of affairs” with the Commission for the Administration of Justice being unable to make statements in the face of allegations about a member of the judiciary.
He would not confirm or deny whether the Commission was looking into allegations against Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco, in light of the censure the Maltese judge received from the International Olympic Committee’s Ethics Commission in his capacity as Malta Olympic committee president.
The Chief Justice said that the law binds the Commission to secrecy. But he made clear that he was not pleased with the situation. “I know this is an unhappy state of affairs. It is not a situation I am happy with and I have already said, in speeches I made, that the situation within the Commission needs to be reviewed. For as long as the situation stays as it is, however, I will respect the law,” he said.
The comment comes after the IOC’s ethics body on Thursday rapped Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and Joe Cassar – the president and general secretary of the MOC – for engaging in a conversation with undercover journalists posing as ticket agents looking to circumvent the official sales mechanism for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The journalists, from The Sunday Times of London, secretly filmed a conversation with Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and Mr Cassar.
With regard only to Mr Cassar, the IOC commission said that by explaining “which means could be used to get around the mechanism”, he helped to prove the journalists’ point that the sports world and those who work for it “are prepared to violate the rules”.
“As a result, Mr Cassar helped the reputation of the Olympic movement to be tarnished,” it said.
When the allegations first surfaced in June, Justice Minister Chris Said had written to the Commission requesting an investigation, in light of Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco’s position as a judge.
President George Abela, who heads the Commission, later announced that he had abstained because he had represented the judge as legal counsel in the past.
Nothing else about the matter has been heard since. However, on Friday the Nationalist Party called on the judge to resign, while Dr Said declared that he would not “hesitate” to move an impeachment motion if the Commission found grounds to do so.
Sources have told The Sunday Times that a hearing is taking place but could not give any information on its status.
The Commission, which in the absence of the President will be chaired by the Chief Justice, acts very much like a court in which a judge or magistrate facing the proceedings would make a defence plea, often aided by a lawyer.
Asked if the Commission would be making a statement, the Chief Justice said: “If there is a development that the Commission feels it can make a statement on, it will make a statement, but if there is nothing it means there isn’t something that the Commission feels it can make a statement on.”
Mr Farrugia Sacco has denied any wrongdoing but has been unavailable for questions, as has Mr Cassar.
However, David Farrugia Sacco, the judge’s son and lawyer, said the legal team would be evaluating the matter over the weekend.
Five years ago, the Commission for the Administration of Justice had ruled that Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco was in breach of the judiciary’s code of ethics as long as he remained president of the Malta Olympic Committee.
The code of ethics, a non-binding set of principles, states that members of the judiciary “cannot hold any position, even if temporary, voluntary or honorary, and neither can they carry out any activity which, in the view of the commission... may compromise their position, duties or functions”.
However, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco remained in his position on the MOC after disagreeing with the council’s ruling.
To date, there has never been a successful impeachment of a member of the judiciary.
In the early 1990s a motion to impeach Magistrate Carol Peralta over allegations that he was a freemason was withdrawn after he made a declaration saying that he had acted as a lawyer for a lodge before being appointed to the bench but was not actually a member.
A decade later, in 2001, a vote on the impeachment of Judge Anton Depasquale failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority after the Labour Opposition voted against it because it disagreed with the procedure used.
Dr Depasquale had conscientiously objected and did not attend court for almost seven years in protest at the 1994 law setting up the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which he considered to be unconstitutional.
In 2002, impeachment proceedings had started against Noel Arrigo and Patrick Vella, then Chief Justice and judge respectively, when they were accused (later convicted) of taking a bribe to reduce the prison sentence of a drug trafficker. However they resigned before they could face impeachment.
European Olympic Committees ‘support’ those implicated
A board representing European Olympic Committees yesterday pledged its “unanimous support” to those rapped by an ethics commission of the parent International Olympic Committee.
The statement takes the side of six officials from Malta, Greece, Lithuania and Serbia.
The EOC’s executive board said at the end of a three-day conference in Rome that it had reservations about the lack of opportunity given to those concerned to appear before the full membership of the IOC Ethics Commission.
Malta was represented at the conference by the two men named by the IOC, Malta Olympic Committee president Lino Farrugia Sacco and its general secretary Joe Cassar.
The EOC also expressed reservations about the process of “entrapment” (the members were secretly filmed by journalists from The Sunday Times of London posing as ticket agents) through which evidence was obtained, and the lack of legal representation. The EOC President has now been asked to make representations to the president of the IOC.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco is a prominent member of the EOC, holding the chairmanship of the Audit Committee of the European Olympic Committees Association and that of the Co-ordination Commission of the International Committee of the Mediterranean Games.