Where is the justice ministry’s explanation?

The abject failure of the Attorney General to negotiate the process of justice in favour of the public, is a serious shortcoming that either betrays ineptitude, or worse, obfuscation

It is no surprise that calls are being made for the resignation of Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis over the prosecution’s handling of the 2010 HSBC heist case. The clamorous twist in what should have been a ‘straightforward’ matter, was unexpected and inevitably threw a spanner in the works of the justice department.

Convicted bank robber Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’, one of three known man who had been accused with carrying out the daring 2010 heist, told court on Thursday that he would not testify about his accomplices, despite benefiting from a plea deal. Debono said he feared for his son’s safety.

Debono’s plea deal came just before he was about to stand for trial in the heist, with suspect Vincent Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’ – who recently pled guilty to the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia – currently undergoing trial by jury; while another accused, Fabio Psaila, is yet to be heard. Given the body of evidence against many of these accused, Debono was aware of his fate long time before the belated, appointed date for justice, and at the eleventh hour opted for a plea bargain in return for further information about the HSBC heist.

The big mystery behind the HSBC heist is connected to the people accused in the Caruana Galizia assassination: according to a letter their lawyer sent to the European Commission, the brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, accused of the Caruana Galizia assassination, claim they have evidence showing in detail the names and details about both former Labour minister Chris Cardona and incumbent Carmelo Abela, and even members of the Malta Police Force, in connection with the HSBC heist, which resulted in a shoot-out with the police.

They have claimed they can provide the times and locations of meetings held in the preparation of the planned heist between the masterminds and others, including Cardona and Abela; the planned payments from the stolen cash to be divided amongst all those involved; the confidential information and equipment which Carmelo Abela, who in 2010 was the insurance officer employed by the HSBC Head Office, provided and was essential for the heist to take place; and the involvement and complicity of then members of the Malta Police Force.

There is no guarantee that what the Degiorgios claim is even remotely true – the gang has been filing constitutional cases over every minute detail of their charges in the Caruana Galizia to slow down proceedings as much as possible. Carmelo Abela, still a sitting Labour minister running for re-election, has issued denials often lacking the emphatic umbrage required by one accused of having colluded with criminals.

Not to forget that the police and the prosecution have already failed in proving their case against the initially alleged mastermind of the HSBC heist and other hold-ups, a former police inspector sacked from the force who later joined the legal firm of Cardona – David Gatt. That prosecution was pushed hard by the fact that Gatt, kicked out from the force by former police commissioner John Rizzo, was long suspected of having been in contact with members of the criminal underworld. Gatt would win an unfair dismissal case and even ‘reinstatement’ to the force. Lack of hard evidence against Gatt in his role as the heists’ mastermind led to his acquittal, not least due to the fragile testimony of a former police officer, Mario Portelli.

It is clear that with all these connections, the resolution of the HSBC heist is one of many pieces in a complex jigsaw puzzle that could confirm the connection between a loose gang of criminals, with their professional masterminds and counsels, who are suspected of using their positions within political parties and government to serve their ‘clients’ – if not partners in crime.

Even the Malta police force’s union, the MPU, filed a court protest against the Debono plea bargain, saying the Attorney General’s decision had decimated the morale of the force by according such largesse to a person who unabashedly fired directly at members of the force. The union said the move was a slap in the face for its members, because the message delivered by the Attorney General through the plea deal and the dropping of the charges of attempted murder of police officers, was that the AG did not care about the fact that officers were prepared to lay down their lives in the fight against criminality.

It is clear that both the Attorney General as well as the minister for justice must answer for the fact that the plea bargain brokered for Daren Debono, has failed to produce the result it was intended to.

It would be useless to harp on about past administrative and political misdeeds by the Nationalist administrations, when the AG and the minister should be addressing the public and explaining why justice has not been served.

This abject failure of the Attorney General to negotiate the process of justice in favour of the public, is a serious shortcoming that either betrays ineptitude, or worse, obfuscation.