Pardons do not solve crimes

It is abundantly clear that the ‘truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ has not yet emerged in the oil procurement case

The acquittal on appeal of Ray Ferris on corruption charges related to the Trafigura oil scandal has once again illustrated the inadequacy of ill-thought Presidential pardons as a means of solving crimes.

Ferris, 54 of Sliema, was arraigned on corruption charges related to the Enemalta oil scandal, broken by Maltatoday in 2013. George Farrugia was the middleman for Totsa and Trafigura, when evidence emerged of kickbacks paid in Enemalta’s oil procurement process.

As the chief suspect in the case, Farrugia benefitted from a controversial Presidential pardon, bestowed in exchange for all he knew about the network of bribery at the State energy provider. Under the conditions of his pardon, Farrugia was obliged to reveal the whole truth. 

He identified Ferris as Enemalta’s liaison officer for the privatisation of the corporation’s petroleum division, and claimed Ferris had asked for €40,000 in return for help in the adjudication, as well as receiving three gifts of silver from the oil trader.

Now that Ferris has been acquitted of these charges and gone through the full process of law, the alleyway opened up by the Presidential pardon can be seen to have led to a dead end. Ferris’s testimony has been deemed more believable than Farrugia’s when measured against the facts, in that it does not appear that Ferris had accepted to participate in any discussion about oil procurement tenders with third parties at any point.

This raises questions about the investigation. It cannot be left to simply fizzle out into an acquittal, after the main witness has been proved unreliable. But the fact that Farrugia was given this pardon now leaves us precisely in that situation: a situation we had already experienced with the acquittal of Meinrad Calleja of attempted murder on Richard Cachia Caruana, the former Prime Minister’s personal assistant. 

Calleja had similarly been identified by key witness Joseph Fenech (aka Zeppi l-Hafi) in exchange for a Presidential pardon. Fenech’s testimony was likewise rejected by the courts, and Calleja acquitted on appeal. The case remains technically unsolved, and the pardon (which extended to separate counts of armed robbery) is still in place today.

Then as now, a glaring flaw can be discerned in the ill-advised decision to opt for a pardon in the first place. A Presidential pardon automatically confers immunity to criminal charges for any suspect who provides information leading to the arrest of other suspects higher up the criminal hierarchy. It imposes a moral obligation on the beneficiary to tell the truth; but it does not guarantee that the truth will be told, and – worse still – it contains no proviso in cases where the witness does not produce enough evidence to secure a conviction, or has been found to be lying.

In the case of Farrugia, there were already serious doubts raised about his testimony to the Public Accounts Committee. The Ferris acquittal is not the only example where Farrugia’s honesty has been called into doubt. In 2013, Farrugia told the Maltese police that he had no further backhand dealings to report on for the period after 2005, and that he had already told them everything he knew. Emails would later surface suggesting that he knew more.

It was also revealed how, in April 2009, George Farrugia made arrangements for the former head of energy regulation at the Malta Resources Authority, Godwin Sant, to receive football tickets in the UK from oil giant Trafigura as a gift. Sant was questioned by the police over this affair, and it must be pointed out that this twist to the investigation only came about because of revelations in the media: and not because of anything uncovered by either the PAC inquiry or the police investigation.

It is abundantly clear that the ‘truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ has not yet emerged in this case. And this in turn may well raise other forms of suspicion.

Given that such pardons are often denied in other, apolitical cases, one must question why the consistency of this approach in cases with serious political implications.

It will be remembered that in both these pardons there was a closeness between the beneficiary and the prime minister of the day (on whose recommendation such pardons are issued). Fenech was Eddie Fenech Adami’s bodyguard in the turbulent 1980s; Farrugia was a colleague of Prime Minister Gonzi’s wife, a donor to Austin Gatt’s campaign, and perceived to be close to the PN’s inner sanctum.

With both cases now permanently in limbo, one wonders if the decision to evoke the pardon was intended to close the door to any proper investigation that might lead to closure.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has now said that the government will look into the presidential pardon given to George Farrugia, saying that “the government has taken account of the decision taken by the appeals court, and we will assess the presidential pardon given to Farrugia and look at it closely to determine what to do next.” 

The only logical thing to do would be to revoke the Presidential pardon given to George Farrugia, and re-open the investigation. 

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