Attorney General asked to explain why plea bargain deal was reached with HSBC heist suspect

Nationalist Party join Repubblika in call for Attorney General to give public an explanation as to why she agreed to a plea bargain with one of the HSBC heist suspects and hopes this could lead to new evidence on the case

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has been asked to explain why the prosecution agreed to plea bargain with one of the suspects in the HSBC heist
Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has been asked to explain why the prosecution agreed to plea bargain with one of the suspects in the HSBC heist

The Attorney General has a duty to explain the reasons behind a plea bargain deal with one of the HSBC heist suspects, Repubblika said on Thursday.

The plea bargain saw Daren Debono it-Topo handed down a 10-and-a-half-year jail term for his part in the daring heist. The armed hold-up took place in 2010 and ended in a shoot-out with police officers. Debono was injured in the firefight.

Repubblika said the AG had to explain why she opted out of a more severe sentence, given the circumstances of the case, and went for a plea bargain. Repubblika's plea was followed shortly after by the Nationalist Party that insisted on transparency in the AG's decision.

Repubblika acknowledged that plea bargaining was an accepted practice normally reserved for instances when the prosecution is not certain it can secure a guilty verdict. It said that in this case, the suspect had been injured on site during the firefight with police and there did not appear to be doubts on his involvement in the serious crime.

“With this plea bargain agreement, the Attorney General sacrificed the possibility of securing the maximum sentence contemplated at law for a very serious crime… the Attorney General must give the public an explanation with valid reasons for this sacrifice. Although plea bargaining is considered at law a substitute for juries, the obligation that justice is seen to be done does not stop,” Repubblika said.

The group noted that in this particular case a long shadow had been cast on government minister Carmelo Abela and former minister Chris Cardona.

The former was alleged to have provided inside information used by the criminals to gain access to the bank, while the latter has been accused of being a mastermind. Both men have denied the claims.

“The Attorney General should assure the public that this plea bargain agreement will result in new evidence on this case, and not be used to hide proof or discredit witnesses who can implicate people who were or are involved in politics,” the NGO cautioned.

It added that the AG enjoyed independence to ensure that politicians and criminals do not influence the judicial process so that they can escape justice. “Independence means responsibility and accountability,” Repubblika said.

READ ALSO: Vincent Muscat HSBC heist trial postponed after prosecution asks for key witness to testify

PN seeks explanation

In a separate statement issued minutes after Repubblika, the PN said the AG is obliged to explain how she exercises her rights in criminal procedures of a particular serious nature that impact the public's security. "This applies more when public persons are implicated in these cases," the Opposition said.

"In the interest of transparency and accountability, the PN expects the AG to promptly explain her decision in a case where the serious charge of attempted homicide was dropped when several police officers clearly had their lives put in danger during the hold-up," the PN said.