Advert

The Republic of Darkness (2) - John Vassallo

Some people go so far as to equate a magisterial inquiry with a fully-fledged police investigation followed by an indictment and then a trial by jury with witnesses for both sides, cross examinations and finally a verdict. But it is not! Photo: Shutterstock

Some people go so far as to equate a magisterial inquiry with a fully-fledged police investigation followed by an indictment and then a trial by jury with witnesses for both sides, cross examinations and finally a verdict. But it is not! Photo: Shutterstock

I agree with many commentators on the Egrant affair that suspicion or insinuations are not legal tender. Everyone is entitled to believe what they want until all relevant proof is made available to them.

The only ones who know for sure who the Egrant innominato was and is, is the innominato him or herself, the tax advisor who made that famous Skype call and his boss, the Mossack Fonseca executive who received the call and who drew up the necessary paperwork, and presumably the directors of the offshore company that was set up, though these would probably have no idea what they signed. Among the hundred thousand blank pages to which they put their signature for a miniscule fee was this particular one emanating from Malta which they probably have never even heard of.

Of course, the inquiry was not set up to investigate the setting up, ownership of and intentions of the beneficiary owners of the two known companies, nor to discover evidence of the third company. That is the role of our even less independent police force.

The magistrate had to sift through the evidence presented to him about the charge that was based upon allegations that a particular person, a Maltese PEP, was the final beneficiary of that third company and had transacted illegal money transfers coming from a dictatorship in Eurasia that has important trade, commerce and contracts in the energy field in Malta.

His findings, of which we have not seen the full report, appear to show that he did a thorough job, and I never expected less from him. His findings show that the evidence presented did not suffice to establish the facts of the allegations made and for which the inquiry was set up.

A magisterial inquiry is not a definite judgment. Even if the magistrate had found the evidence to have been strong enough to warrant a police investigation, even that would not have been enough to prove the truth of the allegations either.

In fact, all we know is that the document that supposedly indicated the link to the third company had doubtful authenticity. The versions of various witnesses seemed contradictory.

No proof was forthcoming that accounts and transactions took place in one particular bank. This was a bank owned by a man with a serious criminal record, known by outside agencies for sanctions breaches using money laundering tools around the world. He suddenly found out that Malta was the place he wished to set up his business. He is now under serious accusations in the US and can face many years in prison. Our magistrate apparently takes his testimony much more seriously than that of some of the others heard in the inquiry.

That he needed, by chance, to come to Malta late one evening, did not have time to go to his luxury flat or hotel to refresh himself before going late at night, for urgent work at the bank, with a battered travel bag, hardly suitable for a rich man like him, and left like a thief in the darkness, except for the unlikely chance of having journalists, cameras and spotlights upon him as he left by the back door should have raised a red, or at least a pink flag.

Who should one believe?

A magisterial inquiry is not a definite judgment

Well, since the bank documents show no accounts held by the third company, this probably exonerates this particular bank. Yet, there are many other banks, not necessarily in Malta, where such transactions could have taken place. That the bag did not contain any important pieces of evidence we will never know. That a plane was allowed to leave without passengers, we are now apparently told, but we do not know for sure whether there were passengers allowed to board without registration, or that the plane left with documents either in a suitcase or in manila envelopes.

We simply do not know and will probably never know either.

Why did the police not subpoena Microsoft/Skype to obtain a transcript of that famous Skype phone call? Only God and l’innominato know.

With all these unknowns and with the inquiry now terminated, I do not think that our judiciary deserves any blame. It has done its duty and told us that, on the evidence available and on the strength of the credibility of witnesses heard, on expert reports in calligraphy of unknown and uninterested directors of Panama nominee companies, there was not enough evidence.

The conclusions drawn by the executive power in Malta, their journalists and supportive independents all wish to have the case closed and hopefully forgotten. They even go so far as to equate a magisterial inquiry with a fully-fledged police investigation followed by an indictment and then a trial by jury with witnesses for both sides, cross examinations and finally a verdict.

But it is not!

Even then, with the little evidence available one may be forgiven for doubting. Remember that only a fraction of Mossack Fonsecas files were revealed. Like Mossack Fonseca there are hundreds of other legal, tax advisory and banking firms around the world doing these dirty tax avoidance schemes to rob us normal citizens of what is rightfully ours. With the little evidence we may never get to a trial and will never have closure on this matter whatever the party faithful may wish to hope for. This does not mean that people with suspicious minds cannot continue to question. Until full disclosure of all contracts for public works are made public and until our police and financial services watchdogs do their duty independently, we will remain in the dark.

The world may be round but there is no empirical evidence one way or the other about the shape of our Maltese world. One example just recently concerned a Canadian case where a judge, faced with the same type of money laundering scheme set up by, you guessed, Mossack Fonseca, using signatures of, you guessed, office staff, cleaners and secretaries on blank sheets, to enable a businessman to avoid millions of dollars in tax, was found guilty and ended up in jail.

So, with more or less the same doubtful evidence, when the judiciary in a decent country  is inclined to serve the interests of the tax-paying population rather than the fears of the innominato and his advisers, the doubts are overcome because what may appear to be a doubtful signature or where the memory of the signing person fails her, the judge took the general acceptance that the modus operandi of crooked businessmen and their crooked tax advisors was to use dodgy signatures and secretive methods, and he saw through all that, found the businessman guilty of tax avoidance and put him in jail.

Two similar inquiries and two different outcomes. There will be many more simi­lar cases across the world, and the ongoing Paul Manafort case in the US is also all about money laundering and hiding accounts and payments from dictatorships. We may learn something more about the burden of proof in countries that function a bit more transparently than ours.

Our magistrate should have accepted that signature as others did in similar circumstances.

I am surprised that we still have these discrepancies in the separation of powers in Malta. The promised constitutional changes have never appeared. The Utopia of Malta becoming The Republic of Light, remains a chimera, and we all remain all the more lost in the dark with no alternative way out of the impasse visible for now.

À tout à l’heure.

John Vassallo is a former senior counsel and director for EU Affairs at General Electric, a former vice president, EU Affairs, and associate general counsel, Microsoft, and a former Ambassador of Malta to the EU.

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert