How can online porn be ‘bad’… when Malta is making so much money out of it?

At which point, we do have to ask ourselves:  who’s the biggest ‘money-launderer’ in all this, anyway? Fr Luke Seguna… or the country of Malta, as a whole?

Fr Luke Seguna being escorted to court (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Fr Luke Seguna being escorted to court (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

But first, a few words about ‘the presumption of innocence’: a fundamental human right, and a critically important pillar of any self-respecting democracy’s entire judicial system.

Having said that, though: from the perspective of any journalist, wanting to write about any ongoing criminal case… it can also be a downright pain in the arse.

For one thing, you have to keep repeating words like ‘allegedly’, over and over again; which can get a little tiring after a while (especially if, like me, you’ve never evolved beyond your ‘two-finger typing’ stage).

But for another, the principle itself is so very widely misunderstood here, that most journalists end up ignoring it altogether – with potentially cataclysmic consequences, for the cases they write about.

For instance: when the law-courts issued a media-ban (in December 2020) on ‘presuming Yorgen Fenech’s guilt’, in the ongoing Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial… a fair number of media outlets (and bloggers, and satirists, etc.) decided to not merely ‘ignore’ it; but in some cases, to openly ‘defy’ it, too.

Oddly enough, however, some of those same bloggers and journalists are now speculating about the possibility that Yorgen Fenech might eventually be… that’s right, you guessed it: ‘acquitted on a technicality’.

Hmmm. What sort of ‘technicality’ do they have in mind, I wonder? Might it, by any chance, have anything to do with the fact that a sizeable chunk of Malta’s media landscape – themselves included – simply defecated on the suspect’s ‘presumption of innocence’, for almost five whole years?

And that if (or should I say, when) Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers take the matter up to the European Court of Human Rights – assuming, of course, that they first exhaust all their other legal options here in Malta – the judges in Strasbourg might take a completely different (and impartial) view of the same situation…

… only to conclude that: yes, actually. At least one of this man’s fundamental human rights was indeed violated, repeatedly, by certain sections of the Maltese press. And not only that: but the same human rights violation can also be seen to have persisted… even AFTER the law-courts had issued a clear and unequivocal order, for it to stop.

Well: I, for one, can easily imagine how the European Court of Human Rights might take a rather dim view of that sort of thing, you know. Because no matter how ‘self-evident’ Yorgen Fenech’s guilt may appear, on paper; and no matter how much evidence the prosecution submits, to secure a conviction… he still remains a ‘human being’, at the end of the day (and guess what? It is a status that he will continue to enjoy, even if he IS eventually found guilty).

As such, you cannot lightly trample all over Yorgen Fenech’s – or any other human being’s – fundamental human rights… and expect that there will be no consequences whatsoever. And if there’s one consequence we can all certainly expect, in a case like this: it’s that his defence team will literally clutch at any straw imaginable, if it can possibly be used to avert an otherwise (let’s face it) rather ‘probable’ conviction.

What better way, then, to provide precisely the sort of ‘technicality’ that might actually get Yorgen Fenech acquitted… than by throwing his defence team the equivalent of a last-minute lifeline? (And in the form of a human rights violation, if you please…)

Yes, indeed. There is, I would say, more than just the ‘possibility’ that Yorgen Fenech might one day get off scot-free, on the basis of precisely that sort of ‘technicality’. And… um… whose fault would it be, anyway, if that does really happen?

I just thought I’d ask, because such misconceptions are by no means limited to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial. As you might have guessed from the headline, I had in mind to write about another case today… that of Fr Luke Seguna: charged with (among other things) ‘embezzlement and money-laundering’, in a case that has dominated local headlines for the past week.

Now – because the ‘presumption of innocence’ is still such a pain in the arse – here, I feel compelled to make a few disclaimers.

1) I myself have no opinion regarding Fr Luke Seguna’s ‘guilt or innocence’ in this case. (And quite frankly, I’m not even all that interested, either way).

2) This article is only concerned with the nature of the crimes for which he has been charged… and as such, it has no real bearing on the question of whether he actually committed any of them, or not.

Right. With that out of the way: let’s take another look at the charge-sheet, shall we?

‘Embezzlement’; ‘fraud’; ‘falsification of documents’; and ‘money laundering’. But – as I suspected all along – there is not a single word about using that money (or parts thereof) to pay for any ‘online porn services’…  and even less, to ‘buy himself a few expensive motor-bikes’.

And this is hardly surprising, for two (rather obvious) reasons:

1) Because – contrary to yet another widespread misconception – neither ‘watching online porn’, nor ‘buying expensive automobiles’, is actually illegal in this country [unless, of course, we are talking about child pornography…which doesn’t seem to be the case, here].

2) Because – with the exception of ‘money laundering’ (more of which later) – not a single one of those charges has anything whatsoever to do with ‘what Fr Seguna actually did, with all the money he (allegedly) embezzled’. On the contrary: the crimes he stands accused of are concerned with ‘how that money was ACQUIRED’… and NOT ‘how it was spent’.

And yet, most newspapers this week (including this one) ran with headlines which suggested – however remotely – that Fr Seguna’s presumed crimes really DO include ‘watching online porn’. We were told, for instance, that he (allegedly) “‘misappropriated’ tens of thousands on porn sites”… and that ‘Donations [were] allegedly spent on live sex shows’…

… for all the world as though it was actually the ‘porn sites’, and the ‘live sex shows’, that had landed Fr Seguna in court to begin with (as opposed to the real – and much more serious – crimes for which he is actually on trial).

I don’t know. Something, somewhere, feels ‘wrong’ to me, in all this. Not just because these details are actually quite irrelevant, to the case at hand (in the sense that they do not make Fr Seguna any more, or less, ‘guilty’ of the crimes with which he is actually charged); but also because they DO make him appear instantly ‘guilty’ – in the eyes of the court of public opinion, at any rate – of crimes for which he HASN’T been accused (and which do not even really qualify as ‘crimes’, in the first place).

At the same time, however: does any of this really impinge on Fr Seguna’s fundamental human right to be ‘presumed innocent, until proven guilty’?  It’s hard to say, to be honest.

For even if I feel that some of the media reporting may have been ‘unfair’… the fact remains that the prosecution really DID submit all those details, in open court (and unlike the case with Yorgen Fenech.... the magistrate stopped short of issuing any ban on media publication.)

And besides: there IS at least one item, on Fr Seguna’s charge sheet, that warrants taking a closer look at his spending habits. Money laundering… a crime which (if you’ll permit the massive generalisation) involves ‘legitimising’ the proceeds of any criminal activity, by obfuscating their true source.

But this only brings us to another problem regarding this case. Actually, two.

The first is that ‘paying for online porn’ – by means of a credit card, no less – does nothing to ‘legitimise’ the proceeds of any crime. (If anything, the money only comes out ‘dirtier’ than before). And it certainly doesn’t ‘obfuscate the source’ of that money, either. Quite the contrary: having gone through a credit card billing system, those payments remain eminently traceable to the person who made them. (In fact, it may even have been one of the reasons Fr Luke Seguna got himself arrested in the first place.)

So exactly how these online payments can be submitted as ‘evidence of money laundering’, is something of a mystery to me.

But there’s an even bigger problem, staring us all in the face. For while we don’t know, with any certainty, which specific porn sites Fr Seguna spent those €150,000 on… it remains a fact that some of the online billing companies processing porn-payments, happen to be located here in Malta.

As Daphne Caruana Galizia herself had reminded us, back in 2017: “If a porn company anywhere in the world wants to make money online, it has to go through Ron Cadwell, who CNBC named one of the most powerful men in porn. […] When people pay for porn online, their card transaction goes through [Cadwell’s company] CCBill, which processes more than US$1 billion in transactions every year. And where are the payments processed? They’re processed through Malta…”

Now: we cannot safely assert that any of Fr Seguna’s presumed payments WERE, in fact, processed through this same, Malta-based company – in which case, the Maltese government would have ‘taken a cut’, as it were, by taxing the billing company’s profits.

But we certainly can deduce that – while Fr Seguna has been hauled over the coals, for availing of a service that is both ‘legal’, and highly lucrative for the Maltese government – the country itself continues to ‘profiteer’ from the same alleged ‘crime’ that Fr Seguna is supposed to have committed.

At which point, we do have to ask ourselves:  who’s the biggest ‘money-launderer’ in all this, anyway? Fr Luke Seguna… or the country of Malta, as a whole?