'Innocent until proven guilty'

Does the minister not understand how people appointed by the State to serve the public, must uphold the highest standards of propriety? Does he not realise that keeping on as prison director someone who is facing a criminal offence, is simply untenable?

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri

The presumption of innocence, until proven guilty, is a central principle to all systems of jurisprudence. In the case of Malta, it would seem our judicial process can be so interminably long and convoluted, bogged down by procedural time-wasting, lack of resources, and deliberate delays in prosecution or presentation of evidence. The fact is that it is a solid system, but its actors and players have also fine-tuned their skill in putting the spokes in the wheel, at exploiting its weaknesses, and slowing down the wheels of justice. Sometimes, it is simply down to the way prosecutors and defence teams conduct their affairs in court.

Five years on from the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, we can be sure that the process leading up to the court cases and trials of the bomb-makers and the assassins, and their paymaster/s, leaves much to be desired. The process has been slow and painful, and fraught with risks to many involved in it.

Beyond the legal arguments of what is ‘right in terms of the law’, there are also ethical and political issues. Take the case of the CCF director Robert Brincau, who faces a criminal complaint of having allegedly pointing a gun to an ambulance driver, in the presence of his colleague, a nurse. Brincau is denying the charges. The incident happened in August and the police announced that they would prosecute last Friday, some ten weeks later.

Just in case you are wondering... Brincau is neither resigning, nor suspending himself. And his boss, the home affairs Byron Camilleri, is standing by him! No surprises there from Dr Camilleri, a man who refuses to learn from the Alex Dalli saga inside Corradino prison, who will be remembered for his carelessness to the prison deaths that abounded inside CCF and the plethora of allegations about his behaviour.

Brincau will have to fight these charges, and innocent he might even be. Yet, in a normal situation a person who runs a corrective facility housing hundreds of people, including those who have committed crimes far less serious than allegedly waving a loaded revolver in someone’s face, should be taking a break from his duty when facing a criminal charge such as this.

It is simply the ethical thing to do. But as the Alex Dalli saga shows – who after the umpteenth prison death was given a promotion to be an envoy to Libya – it can be now the precedent for Brincau to feel entitled not to resign for such a trifling allegation as having allegedly threatened someone with a gun.

For even if this allegation is untrue, Brincau, as the former head of the Red Cross in Malta, should take the higher moral ground, respect that standard of ethics for public life, and have the self-respect, to understand that in the face of such serious accusations, he can suspend himself to have the serenity of fighting these charges – rather than attract unwanted attention to his discharge of duties at the Corradino facility. The home affairs minister seems unable to understand this simple matter.

And with his simplistic reasoning that he “does not interfere in police work”, does he not yet ponder over policy, and matters of good governance or respectability in the way public officers carry out their roles? Does the minister not understand how people appointed by the State to serve the public, must uphold the highest standards of propriety? Does he not realise that keeping on as prison director someone who is facing a criminal offence, is simply untenable?

Because if the charge of having, allegedly, waved a revolver about in a public place, to a person, is not a serious enough accusation for someone to consider suspension from their public service, then what is?

Camilleri might just as well vacate his post to leave the rest to circumstance and chance. What does the minister for ‘national security’ serve for if he thinks our public servants can whip out their service weapon as they see fit, winging it even when the matter goes to the criminal court?

It is the kind of tone-deaf, mediocre, insensitive and frankly idiotic reasoning that makes our whole system rotten. And it is our tolerance for the absurd and what is wrong or inexcusable, that makes us its slaves. If Camilleri thinks his is normal behaviour, then all matters of rot are here to stay.

With the general acquiescence that everything goes, it is no wonder that we are then faced by the general public’s attitude towards those who played a central role in the omertà leading to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The newspaper Illum for example carries the comments of former prime minister Joseph Muscat, who actually boasts that were it not up to him, the Caruana Galizia assassins would not have been discovered and tried. For heaven’s sake, did he say if it were not him?

What about had he taken action in 2016 to remove Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi over the Panama scandal – where would we be now? And is it not true that before the arrests in December 2019, he was fully aware of the connections between the alleged mastermind and Castille?

Which brings us to Egrant, the mysterious offshore company that seemingly stayed in the hands of Schembri’s trusted advisor, Brian Tonna. In 2017, I had strongly denounced the claims by Daphne – I felt much of the allegation was based on non-fact.

I have said this and I will say it again: I take them all back. Egrant is not what we see.

Daphne’s grave mistake was her hastiness in publishing a claim that was not backed by real evidence then; and to believe Maria Efimova, a dubious source who had an axe to grind against Pilatus Bank, which the Egrant magisterial inquiry later proved to have not processed any million-dollar transaction from the Azeri rulers to the Muscats.

But Daphne was definitely smelling a rat – Egrant was an offshore company in the making, for someone – but the proof of that was not in her hands. It was that other offshore company, 17 Black, that was to provide a more revealing link to the Panama offshore companies... only that she had been direct about the Fenech connection, which she probably had already known about

What surfaced much later were the links of 17 Black between Castille and Yorgen Fenech and the kickbacks that underlined all these machinations.

I never saw eye to eye with Daphne; I disliked her scatter-gun approach to opponents or critics and minor relations to her Labour targets.

But the shabby denials from those who were running the country when she was killed make me very angry.

I am more angry that today Joseph Muscat is completely respected by a sizeable chunk of the Maltese business and football community. They are seemingly uncaring of the facts that led to his political fall from grace and this country’s traumatic experience, which is not yet a closed chapter. It is perhaps a reflection of the flimsy moral fibre, if any, of our entrepreneurial and business community.

The truth is, that there are people like Robert Brincau who face a criminal offence and await a (perhaps lengthy) court process but do not resign until then.

And there are people like Joseph Muscat, who face no criminal offence, no trial, have resigned from politics but in the eyes of the majority of the public is 100% responsible – directly or indirectly – for the state of affairs we are now in.

Two separate stories, but two similar destinies: one continues as prison director, and the other is so respected and held in such high esteem that he is signed up as the bright and insightful consultant for big business.

And now we are expected to say thank you for having nailed the criminals who killed Caruana Galizia? Get stewed.