Pardons are not a 'Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free' card

Ultimately, everybody wants the full truth surrounding Caruana Galizia’s murder to come out. So every effort must be made to unearth every stone that may in some way be linked to this crime

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cabinet this week rejected requests for a Presidential Pardon made by brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat – the three main triggermen, accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017 – after advice given by the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner.

A terse statement, that lacked any tangible justification of the decision, explained that: “Cabinet’s decision is not only based on the advice given by the relevant institutions, but is also in the best interest of the country and justice.”

But while this may indeed be the case – especially considering that the Caruana Galizia family was itself adamantly against any such pardons being granted – the case nonetheless raises serious questions of its own.

It will be remembered that the request hinged upon a promise to reveal more names allegedly involved in that murder: including that of a ‘former Cabinet minister’. As such, the request placed Prime Minister Robert Abela in a quandary. By acquiescing, he would also be opening the door to a possible indictment of a former member of the Labour government for murder: a prospect that any prime minister would naturally wish to avoid.

Cabinet’s decision therefore comes as no surprise. But in fairness, it must also be said that any decision to grant a Pardon, in this case, would also have exposed the government to stern criticism. There is already a widespread feeling that these hardened criminals are doing all they can to receive clemency, despite the horrible crimes they have allegedly committed.

Besides: given that a Presidential pardon has already been granted to one suspect (Melvin Theuma) - and that a plea bargain arrangement has been reached with Vincent Muscat, in exchange for information regarding another crime - there remains the danger that none of the perpetrators of this heinous crime would ever have been brought to justice at all.

For this reason, any additional pardon in relation to the Caruana Galizia murder will obviously be met with outrage and indignation. Moreover, it is highly debatable whether a pardon is even needed in this particular instance. The case against the Degiorgios appears to be strong enough to warrant a conviction, without any need for extra-judicial measures.

This in turn raises questions regarding the possible over-use of what is, at the end of the day, a very drastic measure. While pardons are a legitimate tool that the State should be able to use as a means to solve serious crimes, and dismantle organised crime groups, the fact remains that they should be used judiciously.

Nonetheless, it is now incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain the reasoning behind this decision. While we are not privy to the reasons given by Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa and Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg, we can only assume they are based on sound information.

But given the political controversy at the heart of this decision, that may not be enough to dispel suspicions that Abela – while undeniably acting in the country’s best interest – may also have been motivated by political reasons of his own.

From this perspective, it doesn’t help that the Degiorgio brothers have claimed in a judicial protest that they were not even approached or spoken to by the police about the claims they made in their pardon request.

To be fair, these suspects can hardly be given leverage to determine their own fate. Nonetheless, the implications of their presumed information cannot lightly be dismissed, either.

Apart from their claim to have ‘direct’ knowledge of a former minister who was involved in Caruana Galizia’s murder, the Degiorgios also hinted that a sitting minister was involved in the failed HSBC Bank heist in 2010.

Pardons aside, the police have a clear duty to independently verify these claims, investigate them, and dig deeper. If what the Degiorgio brothers claims turns out to be true, there may be grounds for a plea bargain to be considered. More importantly, however, there may be a possibility of arresting more ringleaders in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, and other crimes too: with or without any such additional measures.

Ultimately, everybody wants the full truth surrounding Caruana Galizia’s murder to come out. So every effort must be made to unearth every stone that may in some way be linked to this crime.

But in doing so, those criminals who have been identified so far must not be given a ‘get-out-of jail-free’ card even before justice has been served. Otherwise, there is a very serious chance that justice may never be served at all.