The ‘burden of proof’ still applies, you know

Our newly discovered ‘burden of proof’ applies just as much to this scenario, as any other. If you still think the Egrant inquiry was a whitewash... prove it

Amazing, how a mere 15 months can change people’s entire outlook on issues such as ’justice’. I feel I ought to congratulate all those out there who have so suddenly (and inexplicably) discovered such principles as ‘the benefit of the doubt’, ‘the presumption of innocence’, and – above all – ‘the burden of proof’... even if the same people were all busy denying their very existence until just last Sunday.

Why now, I wonder? Why not 15 months ago, when timely acknowledgement of these all-important justice principles might have spared so many people so much embarrassment today?

But let’s recap a little. It was in April 2017 that Daphne Caruana Galizia came out with the claim that ‘Michelle Muscat was the ultimate beneficiary owner of Egrant Inc.’... which, if true, would have  destroyed Muscat’s political career, and possibly landed both him and his wife in jail for up to 18 years.

Oh, that reminds me: for those who, to this day, are still trying to minimise the issue by arguing that ‘Muscat would never have gone to prison’... bear in mind that before the election, the Nationalist Party had even put up posters depicting Joseph and Michelle Muscat already behind bars: a chilling warning of what was to come, had that party gone on to win the 2017 election.

Yet interestingly enough, the same people who applauded that poster over a year ago, now recoil in horror at the idea that the perpetrators of another crime – a real one, this time – might have to likewise end up behind bars. Erm... what do these people think, exactly? That ‘prison’ exists only for Laburisti, while those who share their own political beliefs get to enjoy some special, permanent ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card?

The scary thing is... yes, actually, that is precisely how some people out there think. But back to the original allegation.

To substantiate her claim, all Daphne uploaded was a hand-typed transcript of a document – the famous ‘declaration of trust’ – linking Michelle Muscat to that company. And hey presto! Many magically found themselves with enough rope in their hands to hang both the Prime Minister and his wife, without any judicial process whatsoever. We were also told that a digital copy had been ‘uploaded to the Cloud’; where it seems to have remained, in nebulous form, ever since.

But tell you what: once we’re all in argument mode anyway, let us, for argument’s sake, imagine that someone used the same methods to make very different allegations about very different people. Consider a scenario where a random blogger and/or journalist publicly accused YOU (yes, YOU) of being a child-molester/serial killer; that you kidnapped, tortured and murdered dozens of little children, and buried their lifeless bodies under the tiles of your kitchen floor.

Would you accept, as the sole evidence to ‘prove’ your guilt of those horrific crimes, a typed transcript of a document that no one had ever seen? I somehow doubt it. Once your howls of indignation, outrage, shock and horror eventually subsided – around a decade later – my guess is that you would have demanded cast-iron proof of those claims... while reserving the right to avail yourself of the full extent of the law, in pursuit of justice and the truth, should the allegations prove unfounded.

Now: what do you think would happen if, 15 months later, a magisterial inquiry found (after digging up your kitchen floor, naturally) that: a) there were no dead bodies of children buried anywhere on your property; b) there had never been any reports of little children even going missing, still less being murdered; c) the document in question turned out to be a fake, and; d) all the other nuggets of information purporting to link you with that atrocity were likewise fabrications?

I’ll spare you the bother of thinking – after all, it seems to a herculean effort with certain people – and just tell you myself. Judging by people’s reactions to the Egrant inquiry today... even under those circumstances, a sizeable chunk of the population would still remain 100% convinced that you are, in fact, a serial child torturer and murderer. It would matter not a jot that no bodies were ever found; they’d simply say you buried them somewhere else. Nor would they care that there wasn’t even any reason to suppose that any child ever got murdered in the first place. They would argue that ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’... or other such equivalent gibberish that translates, very simply, into: ‘we don’t like you, therefore you are automatically guilty of anything you are accused of (and no, you’re not allowed a defence either)’.

And of course, their instant, knee-jerk reaction to the inquiry which disproved the allegation would be to simply discredit it out of hand. As they are now doing with Egrant; never mind that they themselves had accepted an unproven allegation as Gospel-truth without even seeking to verify it; they are now just as firmly convinced – in some cases, without even having read the executive summary – that the inquiry must perforce be an automatic whitewash.

Well... good for them! Like I said earlier, it’s healthy to be sceptical, when confronted with a claim you think there is reason to doubt. (Might have been a lot healthier had we all adopted that attitude from day one... but hey, better late than never).

So let’s go along with their new-found scepticism, and assess the inquiry’s findings on the basis that the allegations were all along correct... which also means that the inquiry must, by definition, have been somehow flawed.

The first thing we would have to do – quite possibly the only thing – is come up with a plausible narrative that provides a thorough explanation for all the inconsistencies flagged by Aaron Bugeja’s report. Nobody has done this so far; doubt has been cast on this or that detail here and there, yes.... but a comprehensive, composite picture that both discredits the inquiry, and proves Muscat’s ownership of Egrant? That has not been forthcoming to date.

Let’s try it ourselves: starting with the contradictions that emerged from the testimonies of both Daphne Caruana Galizia and the (presumed) whistleblower, Maria Efimova.

On April 27, Daphne testified that she had been in possession of a copy of the Egrant declaration of trust. On 31 May, she testified that she never had a copy of the same document... but that she had seen printouts shown to her by Efimova.

Efimova, on her part, told the magistrate that “it was Caruana Galizia who showed her the declarations of trust for Egrant and Sahra FZCO. Caruana Galizia never told her from where she got copies of the declarations of trust. Efimova said she never took any copies or photos of these documents when she worked at Pilatus Bank”.

She also testified that the documents she had seen – i.e., which she claimed had been shown to her by Caruana Galizia – had no letterheads. Yet the ones reproduced on Daphne’s blog, and (separately) passed on to the magistrate by Pierre Portelli, had letterheads.

Anyone care to explain these discrepancies? It’s rather important, if you still insist that the allegations are true. One of the first things any investigator would look for are variations within a witness’s version of events: and with good reason; for while the versions may change... the truth does not. Daphne either had those documents, or didn’t. Efimova either gave (or showed) them to Daphne, or vice versa. The one thing those conflicting versions cannot possibly both be, is true.

Another thing our composite picture must account for are the anomalies within the document itself. We were told (and we didn’t even have to wait 15 months for the inquiry) that the personal information printed thereon had been gleaned from Michelle Muscat’s passport, and also her Maltese ID card. This was pointed out because the information itself was in part contradictory: Muscat’s ID card claims a different ‘place of birth’ than her passport.

Two questions arise, both of which must be answered by our hypothesis. Why would Michelle Muscat use two documents to fill in those details, when all the information could have been relieved from only one? And, more compellingly: why would she use her Maltese ID card – which has no legal validity outside the EU – to open an account in Panama?

Next on the list, the disappearing bank accounts. Apart from the declaration of trust, Daphne Caruana Galizia also uploaded the text of an (alleged) bank transfer of $1.017 million from an Azerbaijani account, into one held by Egrant. The magistrate, however, found no evidence of any bank account ever opened by Egrant Inc, and no record of this particular transaction either.

This detail is significant in light of the broader implications of the allegation itself: money laundering. Dirty money can only be laundered through the regular banking system; otherwise, it doesn’t come out ‘clean’. For Egrant to successfully launder any amount of dirty money, it would have had to possess a bank account, registered and recognised by international banking regulators. (And no, the ‘absence of evidence’ argument doesn’t hold in this case: to delete evidence that a regular bank account once existed – anywhere in the world – you would have to somehow erase the memory cells of the computer systems common to all banking authorities where such transactions are recorded.)

I would therefore expect our theory to account for the claim that $1.017 million could have been deposited into a bank account for the purpose of being ‘laundered’, when no records of either deposit or bank account exist anywhere.

We would also have to explain how the Pilatus chairman could possibly have spirited evidence out of that bank in the dead of night, when CCTV footage examined by the magistrate established that he never retrieved any documents from any safe, nor put anything into the suitcases with which he eventually left the office.

And I won’t even bother with the falsified signatures at this stage; that is the one detail latched onto by Bugeja’s detractors to date, and for this we might have a possible alternative explanation. Forging signatures may (but then again, may not) be standard practice in this line of business: for the purely practical reason of having to sign 1,700 documents in a single day.

But falsified signatures on a document that shows separate signs of tampering, in the context of a version of events that has changed more than once, coupled with evidence that other major planks of the same allegation (indeed, all of them) were likewise fabricated or untrue...? I don’t know. I’m just glad that it doesn’t have to be me to come up with this new composite picture in the end.

After all, our newly discovered ‘burden of proof’ applies just as much to this scenario, as any other. If you still think the Egrant inquiry was a whitewash... prove it.

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