Criminal inquiry into passport agents' boasting of political connections to go ahead

Lawyer Jean-Philippe Chetcuti had previously requested the criminal court overturn the decision to hold a criminal inquiry into his boasting of political connections caught in French TV sting

Chetcuti Cauchi's director Jean-Philippe Chetcuti at Castille
Chetcuti Cauchi's director Jean-Philippe Chetcuti at Castille

The Criminal court has confirmed a decision by a magistrate to hold an inquiry into lawyer Jean-Philippe Chetcuti over allegations of trading in influence.

Chetcuti, a senior partner at law firm Chetcuti Cauchi, had filed an application to the Criminal Court, requesting it to revoke the decision given by magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo on November 7, in which she had upheld a request by NGO Repubblika for a magisterial inquiry into his firm over allegations of corruption in relation to the IIP passport selling scheme.

Farrugia Frendo had found that the prerequisites for an inquiry were present and had ordered that one begin.

Chetcuti had been caught on camera by French TV station M6, saying he could use his political connections to serve clients seeking to acquire Maltese citizenship, especially those whose application had been refused for failing the due diligence test.

But after the magistrate had ruled that the inquiry should begin, the lawyer had filed an application to the Criminal court in a bid to overturn the magistrate’s decision.

Cauchi’s bid fell flat, however, with the court today confirming the magistrate’s decision, albeit limiting the scope in Chetcuti’s respect as a sole suspect and not as the company director.

The court said that this was no obstacle should the inquiry come across “other facts rendering third parties liable to criminal proceedings” and that “there was nothing barring the inquiring magistrate from investigating new facts, ensuring that all evidence is preserved.”

The citizen requesting such an inquiry lacked the tools to produce all the evidence in support of his claims, said the judge, pointing out that that was the purpose of the inquiry in genere.

She noted that in this case, the alleged crime of trading in influence was punishable with imprisonment for over three years, that a suspect was clearly indicated and the material elements of the alleged crime had been pointed out by Repubblika. This meant that all the prerequisites for the inquiry were present.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi assisted Repubblika.

PN says passport scheme should be stopped

The Nationalist Party reiterated that the IIP should be immediately stopped once and for all following Judge Edwina Grima's decision to order a magisterial inquiry into Chetcuti. 

"Whoever heads this legal firm was caught boasting of his political connections and influence on the Prime Minister and other ministers of the Labour government. It was also said that this firm would readily close an eye to applicants who had a criminal record," the PN said in a statement on Friday.

It added that the PN had been warning against the scheme for a long time, a scheme, it said, that continued to lend a bad reputation to the country. 

"It's also of note that another inquiry is taking place into the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri on the sale of passports. This is the scandal of Schembri receiving €100,000 in an account he had in Pilatus bank from a secret company owned by Brian Tonna, [Schembri's accountant]."

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