Judge puts off Panama Papers appeal hearing

Antonio Mizzi delays decision on open court hearing by one week

Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi.

Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi.

Updated 2.20pm - Added PL statement 

Judge Antonio Mizzi has put off a decision as to whether a Panama Papers-related appeal should be heard in open court by one week, after plaintiffs including the Prime Minister said they needed one more week to prepare their arguments.  

The case concerns appeals filed by Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and four others against a magistrate's decision to investigate whether they broke money-laundering laws.  

Aside from Dr Muscat, Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, appeals were also filed by Nexia BT's Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, as well as Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman. 

In a brief statement outside the law courts, PN MP and lawyer Jason Azzopardi told reporters that a decision as to whether the hearings should be held in open court will now be delivered next week.  

The sitting will take place at 9am on Monday, September 18. 

Aside from ruling on whether the hearings should be open to the public, Mr Justice Mizzi was also due to hear counter-arguments concerning a challenge against him filed by Nationalist Party lawyers. 

The PN has argued that judge Mizzi's marriage to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi made him unfit to hear the case. PN lawyers presented their arguments in favour of the challenge to the judge last month. Lawyers representing Dr Muscat and the other six were expected to present their counter-arguments today. 

The deferred sitting means that the court decision will now be taken once Simon Busuttil has relinquished his post as PN and Opposition leader. 

In a tweet, Dr Busuttil accused the Prime Minister of delaying tactics. 

"The urgent investigation on Panama Papers delayed yet again because Joseph Muscat is not comfortable with public scrutiny," he wrote. 

A lengthier statement issued by the PN derided Dr Muscat's request for one further week to prepare. 

"Even on the basic question as to whether the case should be heard behind closed doors, he says he needs a week to think it through, rather than just accept the request immediately," the PN said. 

'Busuttil wants to dictate' - PL

The PN reaction prompted a reply from the Labour Party, which in a statement accused Dr Busuttil of "believing he has a right to pick who judges cases in which he is involved." 

"Had he not presented this appeal [challenging Mr Justice Mizzi] the appeal would be underway," the PL said, as it slammed the outgoing PN leader for "persisting with his pre-electoral tactics of twisting legal findings to suit him."

The PL again challenged Dr Busuttil to say he would resign his parliamentary seat "once it is confirmed that his campaign against the Prime Minister and his family was a lie."