[WATCH] Robert Aquilina: ‘Joseph Muscat has resigned himself to facing criminal justice’

After three years at the helm of rule of law NGO Repubblika, Robert Aquilina has stepped down. Here he discusses with Karl Azzopardi the quest for justice, Joseph Muscat, police inaction and accusations that Repubblika is just an extreme faction of the PN

Former Repubblika president Robert Aquilina (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Former Repubblika president Robert Aquilina (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

The person who is convinced the most that Joseph Muscat will face criminal justice, is Joseph Muscat himself, former Repubblika president Robert Aquilina believes. 

Aquilina says he has received insider information “from people close to Muscat” that the former prime minister has resigned himself to facing criminal justice on the hospitals deal. 

But asked whether he feels he is jumping the gun when making such statements, Aquilina insists these declarations help embolden supporters to continue the fight for justice.  

“Before we forced him out of office in 2019, I had spoken about the fact that criminal justice must be done, and I remember people looking at me with a sense of cautiousness. They did not believe it could be done. As time went by, more and more people started to believe that it could be done. They started to believe that if a prime minister did abuse his position, he should not be treated in a special manner,” he tells me as we sit down for this interview. 

Aquilina last month announced he will no longer serve as Repubblika’s president after occupying this role for three years. However, he says that he will continue to contribute to the NGO’s legal battles.  

Aquilina is a harsh critic of what he claims is inaction by the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General (AG) when dealing with allegations of serious crimes involving powerful people. When asked whether the authorities should be allowed the time and space to carry out these often-complex investigations, Aquilina is unfazed. He argues there is already proof that they did not act on evidence presented to them. 

He says in the Pilatus case both officials refused to act on the individuals singled out in the magisterial inquiry.  

“They instead sought to find excuses to pardon those involved,” he adds. “The design of the abuse is evident, and they are participating in it.” 

I ask Aquilina whether there is some truth in the statement, made often by Labour Party exponents, that Repubblika is simply a radical wing of the Nationalist Party given the close relationship most of its officials and supporters have with the Opposition. 

He refuses the label, arguing the government does anything to demonise individuals set on improving the country’s rule of law. But he adds the NGO welcomes any individual who offers to help in their cause. 

“Without Jason Azzopardi’s help, for example, we wouldn’t have been able to fight the court battles we are fighting. I look at these kinds of people as a valuable resource, and I wish there were more of them,” he says.  

On whether he harbours any political ambitions, Aquilina says that while he has no immediate plans, it would be imprudent to rule it out completely, given he has always encouraged young people to get into politics. 

“No matter what civil society does, we always need a political solution,” he says.

The following is an excerpt from the interview. 

The full interview can also be viewed on Facebook and Spotify.

The PL accuses you of being the PN’s ‘extreme faction’. While your statute bars the involvement of politicians and political parties, you worked and continue to work with people who are close or were close to the PN. Your brother is a PN MP, you work closely with Manuel Delia and lawyer Jason Azzopardi handles your legal cases. The question does arise… 

I don’t blame people, but I try to draw a distinction between genuine opinions and the Labour Party spin. The party in government does everything in its power so that people who contribute to dragging the country out of the abyss the same government has dragged us into, are demonised... In the situation we find ourselves over the rule of law in Malta, we welcome any human resource that can help us. The people you mentioned are all capable people, who I enjoy collaborating with, and through that collaboration we have managed to keep alight the flame of hope for justice to be done... I speak to people from the PL, and they do complain on the direction the country has taken. They tell me it’s not easy for them to go public with that opinion and are not comfortable in doing so.

If I had to be the devil’s advocate, Joseph Muscat was never mentioned in anything. What convinces you to think that Muscat is the “head of the snake”? 

Even Konrad Mizzi has not been mentioned anywhere, but Robert Abela kicked him out of the party. Why did he kick out Mizzi, and not Muscat? I have no doubt that Robert Abela knows, like me, that Joseph Muscat was a corrupt prime minister, but while he has the political strength to kickout Mizzi, he is not powerful enough to kick Muscat out, because he is still more popular among Labour voters than Robert Abela. Muscat created the climate of impunity which led to the murder of a journalist.

Muscat says he shouldered responsibility. Do you believe him? 

Even Konrad Mizzi says that, but the reality is that from information I have received Joseph Muscat lost the Cabinet’s trust and asked them for a more graceful exit rather than being humiliated. Everyone was expecting Chris Fearne to replace him, and then Muscat saw in Robert Abela political ambitions, approached him and reached some sort of deal with him, which clearly, he no longer wants to be part of.

You are very sceptical of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General. One must take into consideration that these are complex investigations. You would also be among the first to call them out if the case in court is not proven. Shouldn’t they be given the time to investigate? 

The investigations into Pilatus Bank were finished when the magisterial inquiry was finished. They spent €7.5 million on that inquiry, with forensic experts from the FBI and CIA contributing to that investigation. All they had to do was obey what the inquiring magistrate told them. They had to initiate criminal procedings against the mentioned persons, but they did the opposite. The design of the abuse is clear - they opted to pardon two criminals instead of carrying out their job.

Will we one day see Repubblika contest elections?  

Absolutely not. There were times when people approached us to contest the elections as a party, but it is not the NGO’s role, and it never will be.