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Justice served - Martin Scicluna

Magistrate Bugeja’s charge sheet is devastating. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Magistrate Bugeja’s charge sheet is devastating. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Justice is truth in action. We have just witnessed truth in action. We have learnt from Magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s comprehensive 15-month investigation into the accusation by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia that the Prime Minister’s wife was the owner of a €1 million secret offshore Panama company – the so-called Egrant account – was completely unfounded.

There was no evidence linking the Prime Minister, his wife or their family to Egrant. There were absolutely no grounds to substantiate the accusation.

Justice has been served.

The evidence adduced to support the magistrate’s conclusions are damning. It was taken from almost 500 hundred witnesses involved in the case, including Caruana Galizia and the notorious Maria Effimova, together with international forensic and digital experts and information acquired from Panama, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the United States.

The testimonies of Caruana Galizia and Effimova were central to the magistrate’s conclusions. He said he found it difficult to reconcile the two women’s versions of events since they gave contrasting accounts which were “incompatible with each other, or completely disavowed by the evidence gathered”. The so-called “Declarations of Trust”, which were pivotal to the credibility of the whole case, had been forged.

Caruana Galizia’s evidence that she had been shown the declarations of trust by Effimova were denied by Effimova, who said that it was actually Caruana Galizia who had produced them during their first meeting. There were several discrepancies in Effimova’s testimonies, including her allegation that a company incorporated in Dubai had made a single payment transaction of $1.017 million to Egrant. “It was,” the magistrate said, “the million dollar payment that never was.”

The alleged “safe in the Pilatus Bank’s kitchen”, the Pilatus chairman’s “mystery luggage” and the allegation he “spirited away vital evidence” under cover of darkness were also false. There was no evidence to link Minister Konrad Mizzi or his family to Pilatus Bank accounts. Former European Commissioner John Dalli’s Pilatus Bank account had been closed by the time the Egrant inquiry started. There were no transactions linked to Azerbaijan.

Magistrate Bugeja’s charge sheet is devastating. Fraud. Forgery. Perjury. Defamation. Libel. Bearing false witness. False evidence. Outright lies. Character assassi­nation. Attempting to pervert the course of justice.

I find it personally extremely difficult to comment dispassionately on the outcome to this magisterial inquiry, given that the central player in this whole incendiary saga is now dead, brutally assassinated several months after the events described in the magistrate’s inquiry for reasons clearly unconnected with this notorious case.

She has been presented as a martyr to free speech and her death has been turned by some into an international cause celebre. But, sadly, Caruana Galizia’s death cannot be considered without recalling the pivotal part she played in building and promoting the Egrant story. She has been raised by some to the status of a secular saint, but this investigation has demonstrated beyond doubt that, despite her undoubted courage as a journalist in following up investigative leads, in this instance, like so many of us, she had feet of clay. 

The magisterial investigation has restored the fundamentals of the rule of law

Those of us who argued when Egrant broke 18 months ago for the due process of law to be followed, for the presumption of innocence until proved guilty to be respected, for those bandying accusations of wrongdoing without adducing tangible proof to respect common justice, were excoriated.

Indeed, one European Member of Parliament, David Casa, supported by his PN acolytes in the Euro Parliament, went further and preached the doctrine of so-called “politically conclusive evidence”. As this magisterial inquiry has demonstrated, their ignorance has been exceeded only by their arrogance.

The outstanding lesson from Magistrate Bugeja’s inquiry is that it behoves those who bandy accusations of wrongdoing without proof to respect common justice under the rule of law.

The magisterial investigation has restored the fundamentals of the rule of law – the presumption of innocence, the need for independence and impartiality, the right to a fair trial – which should have guided Casa, Roberta Metsola and Francis Zammit Dimech – and Simon Busuttil. They have treated obnoxiously people who called for measured objectivity as heretics to be suppressed.

If anything has shown why Busuttil should not have led his party into such a disastrous general election, this investigative report spells it out even more eloquently than my advice to him in March last year. I pointed out that, as a politician ostensibly standing on a platform of probity and honesty in public life he had set the bar high in establishing the burden of proof and he should therefore respect the rule of law.

He should not have jumped on a bandwagon created by somebody whose judgment had been tarnished by her anti-Labour tunnel vision. But, regrettably for PN, the party dared not disassociate itself from somebody who, for better or worse, controlled their information life-support machine.

This is why in the wake of this damning report, Adrian Delia is absolutely right to invite Busuttil to “suspend himself” from the Nationalist Party he once led, as well as taking steps to strip him of responsibility for good governance. Against all independent advice, Busuttil had joined wholeheartedly in a conspiracy theory without foundation, consequently taking his party down to a disastrous electoral defeat.

If PN are to make any headway in the four years left of this Parliament, Delia, as leader of the Opposition, must distance himself from Busuttil and the toxic message that Casa and others have conveyed unremittingly abroad.

Shouting “corruption” and bandying false accusations based, in Magistrate Bugeja’s vivid words, on “suspicions that do not amount to a single piece of evidence” is not the way to go about it. They have done the country harm. They deserve to pay dearly for their transgressions in next year’s European Parliamentary elections. The only hope of PN damage limitation is a clear and unequivocal distancing between the Nationalist Party’s current leadership and the Busuttil and Casa factions – yesterday’s men.

Delia is therefore right to move swiftly to disassociate himself from the Busuttil-Casa elements in his party, who brought the Egrant debacle down around their own heads.  Better by far if, instead of creating spurious and self-serving reasons to undermine the government, they rallied to Delia to help give him credibility in his key role of holding the government to account.         

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