AG accused of withholding evidence and ‘forcing’ police to arraign Pilatus official

Pilatus defence counsel accuses Attorney General of withholding evidence from the police,whilst ordering them to charge money laundering reporting officer, in a bid to circumvent the rule of disclosure

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg
Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg

A court has been told that the Attorney General “forced” the police to arraign Pilatus Bank official Claude Anne Sant Fournier while, at the same time, withholding the majority of the evidence collected during the magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank from the police.

This emerged in court on Tuesday morning after court-appointed expert Martin Bajada testified to having handed scans of the physical evidence - some 200 full boxes of documents, on a pen drive to the magisterial inquiry, which had concluded over two years ago.

The Attorney General at the time “did not want to use the scanned documents from Pilatus,” and insisted on the hard copies, he said.

“Every room was given a number, and cabinets were given sub-numbers,” Bajada explained from the witness stand. “Every document taken was listed in inventory and scanned,” Bajada said. "So I have a room full of files for nothing?” asked the magistrate. The files were to be kept for posterity and for reference in case of any disputes about the scans, she explained.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech appointed Bajada to exhibit a digital copy of the files together with the site plan for Pilatus bank. 

Bajada was also ordered to make a copy and transcript of the testimony of a witness who had told the inquiring magistrate about having made handwritten notes of a meeting the witness had with Ali Sadr, after the court expert informed the court of the existence of this evidence.

Cross-examined by lawyer Stefano Filletti, Bajada explained that during the scanning process, he would receive updated scans every night. He had exhibited these in the inquiry, he said.

Filletti dictated a joint note with lawyer Kathleen Grima, protesting against the fact that all the documentation relating to the bank had been scanned and inserted in the acts of the inquiry which, at the moment of Sant Fournier's arrest, had already been in the prosecution’s hands.

As the law stands, once a person is arrested, he or she has a right to the disclosure of all the evidence against him or her. “As soon as the obligation of disclosure on the prosecution was triggered, although these documents were in their possession and easily communicable to the defence on a USB flash drive, and in spite of the defence’s requests for full disclosure, the prosecution knowingly chose not to give this data to the defence, as they were obliged to do.“

Neither was the defence given a copy of the report drawn up by Duffen Phelps, the company which was engaged to scan the bank documents, he said.

This was not only a breach of the criminal code, Filletti said, but also seriously prejudiced the defence at the investigation stage. The defence lawyers said they were reserving the right to take further legal action after they received their copies of the documents in these proceedings.

Prosecutor Marthese Grech from the Office of the Attorney General argued that the AG could not interfere with the police investigation, but this argument was swiftly shut down by the defence lawyers, who warned the AG “not to play games.” 

“So the AG gives instructions to prosecute, has all the evidence in hand, forces the police to arraign people within 48hrs, and then the police tell us that they had practically no evidence?” said Filletti. “The AG held all of the documents and had ordered the police to press charges. When we asked for disclosure we were given four sheets of paper which was all the police had been given...this is an abuse. All the documentation is to be handed to the police,” said the lawyer, accusing the State of  “trying to find a way around the rule of disclosure,” by pointing at legal amendments which split prosecution responsibilities between the police and the AG.

Police Inspector Pauline Bonello, who took over the police investigation after the resignation of her predecessor, told the court that she had been only given redacted documents for use during Sant Fournier’s interrogation.

“The defence is saying that the AG kept the police in the dark and ordered them to prosecute anyway. This is a serious accusation,” said the magistrate. “I hope you have a basis for it.”

Filletti asked the inspector to take the witness stand to confirm this on oath. An argument broke out between the defence and AG lawyers as prosecutor Ramon Bonnett Sladden attempted to say something to the inspector while she was walking up to the stand.

After the oath was administered, Filletti asked the inspector whether she would confirm that she had never handed any pen drive containing the evidence to Sant Fournier before her interrogation. Inspector Bonello confirmed that she had not, going on to explain that “this is because I didn’t have one either. We just had the report from Duff and Phelps with parts redacted…the substance, the conclusions drawn from their analysis.” 

A lawyer appointed to represent the defunct bank, asked the witness whether the bank itself had been given any documentation. “I don’t have a recollection of having given them anything,” she said.

Prosecutor Marthese Grech protested that she hadn’t even been present for the interrogation, adding that the law was clear in saying that the duty of disclosure lies with the police.

The magistrate replied by saying that the AG must know what evidence it had given the police.  “Let us be honest here, that which you didn’t give them, they can never know. Let’s not beat around the bush. In this courtroom, I do not like to hear people defending the indefensible.”

The case will continue later this month.

Prosecutors Marthese Grech and Ramon Bonett Sladden appeared for the office of the Attorney General. Police inspectors Claire Borg and Pauline Bonello are prosecuting.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Grima are defence counsel to Sant Fournier.