Seven appeals against Panama inquiries on hold pending Constitutional decision

Angry exchanges between Party lawyers in court today over an inquiry into the Prime Minister and other high profile government figures

There were angry exchanges between lawyers for the governing Labour Party and Nationalist Party in court this morning, over an inquiry into the Prime Minister and other high profile government figures.

The argument broke out after an appeals court judge was formally presented with a request to stay on the proceedings in seven appeals against a magistrate’s decision to allow an inquiry into the Prime Minister and other high profile government figures, until a Constitutional challenge to the judge’s suitability is decided by judge Joseph Zammit Mckeon.

Late last month, former PN leader Simon Busuttil filed the Constitutional application, objecting to Judge Antonio Mizzi’s decision not to recuse himself in a case, which involved several high profile members of government. The Constitutional case before judge Zammit Mckeon is due to begin tomorrow.

In July, Busuttil had called on magistrate Ian Farrugia to launch an investigation into the revelations emerging from the Panama Papers and the involvement of high profile Maltese individuals.

Magistrate Farrugia later decreed that the pre-requisites for a magisterial inquiry had been satisfied. The purpose of Magistrate Farrugia’s inquiry was to establish whether money-laundering laws were breached by government officials, in opening offshore companies in Panama, as well as opaque financial structures in New Zealand.

But the seven individuals mentioned in the application – Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, as well as businessmen Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman – subsequently filed separate appeals applications, asking that Farrugia’s decree be revoked.

The appeal was assigned to judge Antonio Mizzi.

Busuttil then requested judge Mizzi’s recusal, on the grounds that Mizzi’s wife, MEP Marlene Mizzi is a member of the European Parliament’s S&D party, which has ties to the Labour government. Judge Mizzi refused to recuse himself.

This led to a separate Constitutional application being filed, in which Busuttil asked the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, to declare a breach of his right to a fair hearing, also asking that the appeal be assigned to another member of the judiciary.

When the case resumed this morning, judge Mizzi announced that the court had just been verbally informed of the Constitutional application over the composition of the court, by Azzopardi.

This led to an angry exchange between Azzopardi and opposing counsel Pawlu Lia, who argued that the application would be prejudicial to his client’s interests. Azzopardi remarked that the lawyer was effectively admitting that the PL had an interest in judge Mizzi continuing to hear the case.

Judge Mizzi maintained a dignified silence during the awkward exchange, before decreeing that in view of the application and the request for a stay of proceedings, the case was to be delayed until the Constitutional process was concluded.

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