Why become a freemason?

Why someone should feel the need to become a freemason is very clear to me. I’m sure there’s some added value to the whole experience, and not just bizarre rituals.

A meeting of friends: freemasons in Malta posing for picture posted on the internet. Notice any friends, apart from Tony Debono (third from left, front row)?
A meeting of friends: freemasons in Malta posing for picture posted on the internet. Notice any friends, apart from Tony Debono (third from left, front row)?

Former Magistrate Carol Peralta is a freemason, and appears to have been one for the past 30 years. In the early 1990s, Peralta – together with others – appeared on a list of Maltese freemasons.

Why someone should feel the need to become a freemason is very clear to me. It appears to entice certain people of a certain disposition. But I’m sure there’s some added value to the whole experience, and not just bizarre rituals.

My perception is that freemasonry acts as a secret society where one member helps another. And a Magistrate – as we all know – is rightly placed to do just that. Whether Peralta did so is officially unproven, to be fair.

But what I do know, is that the code of ethics for the Maltese judiciary explicitly bans association with a lodge, or group of freemasons.

Peralta, in a defiant mood, continued to serve as a magistrate and when asked by the media about freemasonry, he had said that he did not see anything wrong with it.

Peralta then moved abroad and served as a judge. The fact that he was selected when he was shown to be a freemason is ample proof that disregard for high standards is not limited to Malta.

He returned to Malta and to his former post as Magistrate, and was more often than not engaged in controversy over some questionable judgement or behaviour.

PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami had taken Peralta to task over his refusal to deny any involvement in freemasonry.

Peralta was also asked by MaltaToday whether he was still a freemason. He refused to answer, simply saying it was not illegal, and that ample court judgments existed saying that there was no conflict between him being a freemason and a member of the judiciary.

This had prompted Fenech Adami to state: “The fact alone that he refused to deny any involvement is serious. It is unacceptable that any individual occupying a public role is a member of a secret society.”

Months ago he sparked a bigger controversy when he organised Christmas drinks in his own courtroom.

Unrepentant of his actions, Peralta refused to acknowledge any problem with all this, when pressed by journalists over whether he was in any way ashamed about what happened. Instead, he sat back in his leather sofa and lit a cigarette.

He also made headlines when he illegally built and demolished a medieval wall in his Mdina property, situated at the historically and archaeologically rich Mesquita Square. This was later sanctioned by MEPA despite heritage experts’ advice to halt the project.

Peralta was the most senior freemason at the Leinster lodge No 387 LC at Villa Blye in Paola, before being sworn in as magistrate in 1990. The lodge, which Magistrate Carol Peralta had led as Worshipful Master for the year 1989-90, included some very well-known businessmen and lawyers.

Peralta’s name had appeared on a letter the Masonic brothers sent three days later, after his appointment.

A year later, in 1991, Peralta had converted a Lm5 fine to a day at Corradino Prisons when he was handing down his judgment against Joe Azzopardi, Mark Borg and myself.

The three of us were sentenced to a day in prison when we protested as Alternattiva activists in Gozo, blocking a car carrying his grace Richard Cachia Caruana from entering Ta’ Cenc Hotel.

The group of protesters were 22 in total, but only three had their fine converted into a prison sentence. One of those fined and earmarked to also spend a day in prison was Wenzu Mintoff – now a judge.

Peralta would face two impeachment threats, the first one proposed by former MP Wenzu Mintoff in 1990, asking for the removal from office of Peralta as well as another magistrate on grounds of misbehaviour.

Peralta, then magistrate at the Gozo Court, had granted ownership rights overnight to a dubious land title owner of the Sant’ Antnin Battery in Qala, who could then sell it to his fellow magistrate.

The impeachment motion however fell through, as there was still no legal procedure to investigate magistrates.

Then, in December 1994, prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami presented another impeachment motion against Magistrate Peralta. At that time the newly-established Commission for the Administration of Justice refused the motion, saying there were no grounds for the impeachment motion to be debated in parliament.

In fact, the reasons behind the motion were never made public officially, although they are known to refer to an allegedly abusive relationship with an Asian woman.

Nonetheless, in 2003 Peralta was assigned to the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo and served as an international judge with jurisdiction over war crimes and organised crime.

He was also appointed Presiding Judge of the Special Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, dealing with privatisation matters. Ten months later, he was elevated to the position of Chief International Judge of Kosovo with overall responsibility for managing the international justice programme in the country.

In this capacity, he also presided over trials involving war crimes and international terrorism.

So that is Magistrate Peralta for you.

He climbed the ladder, and continued to indulge in freemasonry despite all of the ‘red cards’ thrown at him.

Now to Wenzu Mintoff…

That he was fit for purpose was very clear from the very first day.

Mintoff last week delivered an invaluable court sentence. He ordered the Home Affairs Ministry to furnish any and all information requested by the office of the Ombudsman in its investigation into AFM promotions, bringing to an end a two-year court saga.

In February this year, Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino had filed an application to the Civil Court, complaining that his office was being hindered from investigating complaints filed by army officers about promotions, salaries and pension rights.

The complaints had been lodged with the Ombudsman by a group of army officers in September 2013, following several promotions awarded to Majors and lieutenant colonels. Several officers complained that they had unfairly lost the promotions to other officers who had less experience, fewer qualifications and lower seniority.

The most notorious example was that of Jeffrey Curmi, who rocketed up four ranks – from major to brigadier – in a matter of weeks.

In his application, the Ombudsman had noted that following his request to the army chief to hand in all relevant documentation, Brigadier Curmi had replied that the aggrieved officers had not followed the established procedure of seeking redress through the President.

The Brigadier’s refusal was followed by a similar response from the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Kevin Mahoney.

In the judgment delivered, Mintoff noted the delicate nature of the situation: a disagreement between two representatives of different organs of the State, on one hand the ministry for home affairs and national security and the other hand the Ombudsman.

The defendants had argued that the Ombudsman lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaints of an army officer as they had not exhausted the ordinary remedy granted by law and in any case “because the merits of the case in question involved the appointment of high ranking officers in the AFM, which is a function exercised by Government to the exclusion of all other authorities”.

The Ombudsman had attempted to investigate the complaints but had encountered, in his words, an insurmountable obstacle in the person of the Commander of the AFM.

Wenzu Mintoff held that what was being impugned by these proceedings was not the promotions or appointments that had given rise to the complaint, but the refusal of the home affairs ministry to collaborate with the Ombudsman’s investigation, “first on the pretext that the Army officers who complained had not exhausted their ordinary remedies and subsequently that the Ombudsman lacked the jurisdiction to investigate acts carried out under the sovereign authority of the state”.

…and to John Dalli

Mintoff ruled that in the circumstances, the remedy provided by the Armed Forces Act was not fitting, effective or adequate because “it is not reasonable to expect the complainants to demand a remedy from the very person whose decision may have been the cause of the complaint”.

In a 69-page judgment, he declared that the Ombudsman did possess jurisdiction to investigate complaints about appointments, promotions, salaries and pension rights in the AFM, also declaring that the decision whether or not to exercise his functions under the Ombudsman Act where other remedies were present, rests solely on the Ombudsman.

It also agreed that having recourse to the President for a remedy was not a remedy that could reasonably be expected in the circumstances. Mintoff ordered the Ombudsman to continue his investigation and ordered the defendants to collaborate with the investigation.

Now that judgement was noted, but many of Wenzu Mintoff’s detractors remain unimpressed. And of course we can leave it up to Andrew Borg Cardona to say, in the pages of The Times right before Mintoff’s appointment as judge: “If you want an indication as to why Mintoff’s nomination was, and remains, unacceptable, take a look at the comments below the various stories reporting on it. The type of people who felt moved to spring to his defence seem to have been motivated by a number of variations on the same theme: he is Lejburist, the people who are opposing him are not, it is Lejber’s turn, therefore the people opposing him should shut up and, anyway, look what they did in the past.”

The very fact that Borg Cardona – who looks like a character from Dad’s Army – wrote Labourite as Lejburist, says it all. 

The truth is that when I look back I realise that I have made a few mistakes with my choice of friends, but with Wenzu Mintoff. Borg Cardona, for example, would surely say that his friendship with Lou Bondi was a phony one.

I cannot say the same for my friendship with Wenzu Mintoff. Throughout our long friendship I have not been let down by his zero tolerance to corruption and double standards.

And if apologists such as Borg Cardona had any doubts about Mintoff’s integrity and credentials as an impartial judge then he should also have read through Mintoff’s judgment on Bastjan Dalli, brother to John Dalli, the disgraced EU commissioner.

It also continues to serve as an eye-opener to me about Dalli: a man I publicly defended.

In another sentence, Mintoff upheld a request by Bank of Valletta to nullify the court auction for the sale of a batching plant previously owned by Bastjan Dalli’s Mixer Limited, and order the repayment of €4.8 million in loans and interest.

The court auction was originally held to have Dalli pay back a €2.2 million loan.

The Bank contended that they had not received payment and asked the court to revive the original executive title granted to it in 2002, given that ten years had passed since that court order.

Mintoff ruled that the court auction held in 2007 for the batching plant in the Ta’ San Martin area of Zebbug was null, since the actual payment was never executed. He also ruled that BOV’s executive title to have its loan repaid was still in force.

When BOV won an original claim against Mixer, it obtained a court order to have the batching plant and the 23,500 square metres of land on which it was situated to be sold by court auction.

It transpired that the auction was held in 2007, with the highest bidders being Neville Spiteri and John Dalli & Associates, the business firm owned by Bastjan’s brother John Dalli.

Another bidder was Joe Gaffarena, a previous owner of the batching plant.

This was all news to me. 

The bank contended that the land at Ta’ San Martin was worth Lm2.8 million (€6.5 million). John Dalli & Associates presented a Lm1.45 million (€3.37 million) bid, but did not deposit the full Lm1.45 million to the courts’ director-general and instead presented a FIMBank bank guarantee.

BOV opposed the guarantee, insisting that winning bids had to be accompanied by full payments. In 2011, a court of law ordered that John Dalli & Associates pay the €3.37 million within 15 days.

In his decision, Judge Mintoff said that since John Dalli & Associates had not effected payment within 15 days of the 2011 order, the judicial sale was now null. Since the 2002 executive title granted to BOV had not yet been effected and ten years had passed since then, Mintoff ruled that BOV’s demand to have the loan repaid was justified.

Need I say more? It is a great pity that I was not aware of these facts when I stuck my neck out for John Dalli.

Editorial policy in a caption

Last Sunday, in The Malta Independent a caption in a story linked to the Michael Falzon (the former Nationalist minister) Swissleaks investigation settled for an editorial disclaimer. 

It stated that the newspaper would publish the name of those who were politicians or facing criminal charges. The Independent was referring to the Swissleaks list.

Months ago, the same newspaper had announced that it would publish the name of a Maltese ambassador on the list.

Great stuff. The only problem is that the name never appeared in Malta Independent. The reason, I believe, has less to do with Pierre Portelli’s convoluted editorial policy, but more to do with someone higher up getting cold feet.

Needless to say, we know who the Maltese businessmen on Swiss leaks are. Perhaps I could hint at them. But unlike the Independent, we do not have a hidden agenda to deviate attention from the fact that one of its leading columnists is facing very serious court proceedings on VAT and soon will be facing charges on tax-related issues. 

Perhaps people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The awakening

Claudette Buttigieg called a press conference to lament about the shameful events at Addolorata Cemetery. Some five years ago I wrote a piece about the state of affairs at the cemetery. She was the communications coordinator to then health minister Joe Cassar and from what I can recall, her response to my article was something akin to a scene from The Walking Dead.

Before 2013, Joe Cassar presided over a billboard campaign announcing that there would be more graves at Addolorata. I guess we were supposed to say “thank you”.

Whenever I visit the cemetery at Addolorata I am reminded of how the dead have no votes.

When Claudette finds the energy to highlight a serious problem at Addolorata which she did nothing about when she was a senior official at the Ministry responsible for our graveyards, the only viable reaction I can think of is throwing up.

Deborah writes in

I refer to the article entitled ‘Stay home please, Dr Gonzi. Stay home’ published 12 October, 2015 on Malta Today.

Saviour quoted me as saying: “I told Muscat that I would stand for election only if abortion and embryo freezing would not be introduced. He kept his word and I stood.”

My words were not exactly those. When asked why I took the stand against I said that I had always been against it, so much so that I had told Dr Muscat from the start, even before I became a candidate, that I was against abortion, embryo freezing and surrogate motherhood and that if standing for election meant having to vote in favour of any of them then I would not stand at all.

The nuances of what I said and what I was reported of having said are not the same.