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President shocked at news of friend’s arrest and arraignment
Sources say President engaged Ray Pace as his personal consultant in the creation of an aviary at the Kitchen Garden, which is annexed to San Anton Palace.
25 December 2012, 12:00am
Disgraced Judge Ray Pace, who last week was arrested and charged with bribery, trading in influence and money laundering, was nominated to the bench in February 1998 by President George Abela, then consultant to former Labour prime minister Alfred Sant.
Sources confirmed that George Abela had been instrumental in proposing Ray Pace to Prime Minister Alfred Sant, and have his nomination approved by Cabinet during one of its first meetings of January 1998.
President Abela is known to be very close to Pace, and until very recently used to meet him for coffee at the Corinthia Palace Hotel in Attard, just across the road from San Anton Palace.
The Head of State's meetings with Pace were held every Saturday morning, with sources confirming that their last meeting at The Corinthia Palace Hotel was held a week before, Pace was humiliatingly escorted by Corradino Prisons personnel to San Anton Palace, where he personally handed his resignation letter as a Judge.
Sources also confirmed that Pace, who is a known bird breeder, was also engaged by Abela as his personal consultant in the creation of an aviary at the Kitchen Garden, which is annexed to San Anton Palace.
Pace and his wife Lynn were also regular guests for concerts and receptions held by the President.
Sources close to the President told MaltaToday that Abela was shocked to hear the news of Pace's arrest and prosecution.
While it remains unknown what was said between the two when they last met at San Anton Palace a week ago when Pace formally handed his resignation, it was reported that Pace was in tears as he faced the same man who had nominated him to the bench back in 1998.
In a court sitting held last Tuesday before Magistrate Neville Camilleri, it was revealed that the former judge availed himself of free meals at the Steak House restaurant of Bugibba, expenses-paid repairs for his daughter's car, and a CCTV system for his home paid for by the two men who are co-accused with bribing him.
Pace, 54 of Attard, returned home late Tuesday afternoon after he was granted bail against a deposit of €5,000 and a €20,000 personal guarantee. He spent the previous four nights in preventative custody at Mount Carmel Hospital's Forensic Unit.
While the courts appointed an expert to compile an inventory on Pace's assets, the courts also approved a freeze on all his property, given that he stands charged with money laundering.
In a humiliating moment, the former Judge - who sat in the dock facing Superintendents Norbert Ciappara and Paul Vassallo - listened to an intercepted telephone recording of a conversation between Sandro Psaila, 40 of Valletta - one of the men who is accused of bribing him - and Paul Galea of St Paul's Bay, a chef who co-owns the Steak House in Bugibba.
Security services intercepted the call on 1 December, where Galea is heard telling Psaila: "What cheek this man has. He comes here and expects to eat for free. I repaired his car and so many other things... listen, we don't need him here anymore."
Another witness, Leonard Scicluna of Mosta, who owns a security camera installation business, told the court that he was engaged to do works by the other co-accused in the case - Raymond Caruana, 51 of Zebbug - to install a CCTV camera system on Pace's home in Attard and in a garage in Santa Venera.
The witness explained that it was Raymond Caruana who paid the €1,300 for the installation of the CCTV cameras.
Joseph Borg, a mechanic from San Gwann, testified that three weeks ago Raymond Caruana had asked him to do some work on a Mini Cooper car belonging to Ray Pace's daughter. The cost of the repairs was €1,300 and Raymond Caruana was to foot the bill. The car was collected on December 8.
The investigation into Pace started on 11 December, when Commissioner of Police John Rizzo summoned police inspector Norbert Ciappara to his office, over a suspected allegation of bribery.
The investigation concerned Sandro Psaila and Raymond Pace, who had been under constant surveillance in investigations regarding serious crime and drug trafficking.
When arrested, Psaila and Caruana initially denied any knowledge of any attempt to bribe for the judge. But Caruana later admitted that drug convict Darren Desira - sentenced back in November to 18 years on drug trafficking charges - owed him some €100,000 and that he had asked Pace to influence the judgement to have him jailed for a long time. Pace was later brought in for questioning.
There are a total of 79 telephone calls which are relevant to the case.
Superintendent Norbert Ciappara said that when interrogating Raymond Caruana, he initially denied knowing the Judge, but later admitted to having spoken to Sandro Psaila and agreed to pressure the Judge over Darren Desira's sentencing.
According to Ciappara, Raymond Caruana said that Darren Desira owed him €100,000 and wanted to pay him back for not having paid the debt.