Some Pilatus Bank crimes already time-barred, Constitutional Court told

The Constitutional Court is being urged not to allow more crimes, allegedly committed by Pilatus Bank officials, to become time-barred by delaying tactics

White Hall Mansions in Ta' Xbiex, where the now shuttered Pilatus Bank was headquartered
White Hall Mansions in Ta' Xbiex, where the now shuttered Pilatus Bank was headquartered

The Constitutional Court has been urged not to allow more of the crimes allegedly committed by Pilatus Bank officials to become time-barred by delaying tactics.

Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi made the request this morning, as the Constitutional Court, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti together with judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul, held the first hearing of an appeal filed by the State Advocate.

Azzopardi pointed out that it is already too late to press charges over at least two of the crimes indicated by the magisterial inquiry into money laundering at the now, shuttered bank.

The first offence is that of making a false declaration to a public authority under section 188 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence. The second, that of membership of a criminal organisation as an official, director or manager of a body corporate, is punishable by between four and nine years in prison, together with a fine of over €116,000.

“In both crimes, as a result of Nadine Lia’s foot-dragging, with the help of the State Advocate and the Commissioner of Police, these are both time-barred,” Azzopardi said.

The lawyer compared Pilatus Bank officials’ treatment to that of persons who had been promptly prosecuted under the same section 188 over VAT and VRT scandals, accusing the State of only taking action against the small fry, whilst letting the charges against Antoniella Gauci lapse.

“The State Advocate wants you three judges to be an accomplice in allowing prescription to continue running, ensuring impunity for the rest,” Azzopardi told the court this morning, stressing that he was not referring to the lawyers in court this morning, but to their client - the State.

The State’s appeal is against an October ruling handed down by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction by Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey, which ordered Magistrate Nadine Lia to temporarily hand over the challenge proceedings Repubblika had filed against the Commissioner of Police as an interim measure. 

The case before Magistrate Lia was filed in view of the police’s failure to act against a number of the individuals earmarked for prosecution by a magisterial inquiry into money laundering allegations at Pilatus Bank.

“What is the State except for a den of thieves,” Azzopardi said, quoting St Augustine. He asked the judges whether they had ever asked a party requesting their recusal to submit an application in writing and not in open court. “Sunlight is the best detergent,” remarked the lawyer, arguing that in asking him to do so, the magistrate had been asking him to break the law.

After Azzopardi finished making his arguments, the three judges briefly suspended the sitting, retiring to chambers. They emerged a few mintues later, adjourning the case till today week for a decision.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi assisted Repubblika. Lawyers James D'Agostino and Isaac Zammit are representing the Office of the State Advocate.