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Ethical conundrum returns to haunt judge caught up in Commission investigation
Judge was asked to relinquish Olympic committee post due to breach of code of ethics.
20 June 2012, 12:00am
Back in 2007, government took the bold step to formally exclude Farrugia Sacco and magistrate Antonio Mizzi from all official functions after accusing them of breaching the judicial code of ethics by the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
The two members of the bench had defied calls for them to resign their respective positions on local sports councils, on the grounds of a possible conflict of interest.
This hypothesis was given new life after the Sunday Times of London secretly filmed MOC secretary general Joe Cassar and Farrugia Sacco explaining to two undercover reporters, posing as envoys of a Middle Eastern ticket tout, how high mark-ups for the tickets could be "camouflaged" through "subtle" marketing techniques.The International Olympic Committee is investigating the resale of tickets on the black market, although the MOC is not one of these. But the Sunday Times report suggests the Maltese officials may have been willing to have its tickets sold by agents outside its borders.
Farrugia Sacco and Mizzi had been omitted from the Republic Day celebrations of 2007 in a clear attempt on the part of the administration to force the two members to resign their committee posts with the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC) and the Malta Basketball Association.
Farrugia Sacco and Mizzi (the latter has since last year not sought re-election in the MBA for reasons unrelated to the CAJ's objections) had been ordered by the Commission for the Administration of Justice to step down from president and public relations director respectively on the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC). Mizzi was also President of the Malta Basketball Association (MBA).
According to the Commission, their positions as members of the judiciary could be compromised or prejudiced, especially because of their potential involvement in public controversy with other sports or government entities.
Describing both MOC and MBA as "heavily dependent on commercial and government sponsorships" with potential for public controversy, the Commission was acting upon its newly introduced code of ethics for the judiciary members, ordering them to step down from the Olympic committee and MBA and to "regularise" their position.
The government had defended its decision to ostracise the two judges saying that the Commission for the Administration of Justice's interest in securing the highest ethical standards and propriety in the judiciary, necessitated that the government itself does not "undermine the clear and unequivocal position adopted by the Commission regarding the holding of public offices within sports organizations among of members of the judiciary."
It was then Education Minister Louis Galea, as minister responsible for sports, who started off the whole controversy two years ago when he called into question the position of the judges on the sports committee.
Galea, today the Maltese member of the European Court of Auditors, said he would not comment on the matter now that it was in the hands of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
Galea had absented himself from the MOC's sports awards in 2007 in a clear sign of boycott towards Farrugia Sacco.
Both members were involved in a public row with Louis Galea when the MOC criticised sporting legislation which they claimed threatened its autonomy and the allocation of funding to sporting associations.
Responding to the criticism, Galea had said he could "not fail to bring to attention the conflict for a Judge or Magistrate who, wearing the cap of MOC president or media director, takes a position against an act of parliament in public circumstances outside the judicial process" - referring to both Farrugia Sacco and Mizzi.
Galea also added that the Chief Justice had already asked the two members to conform to the code of ethics, which he said prohibits the judiciary from "behaviour that endangers their impartiality or independence".
"The government cannot ignore the Chief Justice's admonishment," Galea had warned.
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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