Legal advice for government’s reply to MEPs’ rule of law report cost €26,000

Opposition good governance spokesperson Simon Busuttil said that despite cost, the government’s reply as not being worth the paper it was written on

The government’s reply to a report on the rule of law in Malta drawn up by MEPs on a fact-finding mission last November cost the government €26,000 in legal fees, according to Justice minister Owen Bonnici.

Replying to a parliamentary question put to him by Opposition MP Karol Aquilina, who asked the minister for the amount the government had paid UK law firm Bird and Bird for their services.

“Conscious of the work being carried out against Malta on an international level, based on half truths, inconclusive reports and/or suppositions, this government could not but involve reputable international law firms, like the one in question,” said Bonnici.

Speaking later, during parliamentary adjournment, good governance spokesperson Simon Busuttil said the report was “barely worth the paper it was written on”.

“Not only is it an insult to our intelligence, and to that of the MEPs who came to Malta, but worse still, it is doing untold damage to our country,” he said, adding that the reply was mediocre, at best.

The report’s introduction, he said, stated that the MEPs’ report did not paint a correct picture of Malta and that it was based on inconclusive FIAU reports. Moreover, he said the reply also stated that the government had doubts about the legality of the delegation, in view of its composition and manner in which it operated.

“Does the government know that we are part of the EU?” asked Busuttil. “Is the legality being questioned because David Casa part of the delegation? Isn’t he also an MEP?”

He insisted that Casa couldn’t possibly have manipulated a group of MEPs led by Ana Gomes – a socialist MEP.

He said that while the government’s reply had tried to defend the Attorney General (AG) by suggesting he had no right to investigate cases of corruption himself, and that he did not have any obligation to demand a police investigation. 

“They said that all he can do is request what is called an investigation order, the purpose of which is to collect evidence,” said Busuttil, adding that there was nothing stopping the AG from requesting an investigation order on the various leaked FIAU reports.  

Furthermore, he said the argument that the AG needed concrete evidence rather than simple media reports to start an investigation made no sense since the allegations stemmed from reports drawn up by an agency he was the chairman of.

Turning to the FIAU, he said claims that there was no government interference in the agency’s operation were laughable, as was the statement that the fact that no action was taken meant that no wrongdoing was found.  

The reports he had presented to the magistrate, and which were leaked to the media, he said, clearly stated there was enough evidence to suggest OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri could have engaged in money laundering.

“Had I not published this report, nobody would have known that Keith Schembri took a €100,000 kick back from the sale of passports,” he continued. “You can’t take a government seriously when a person like this is still there.”

He said that rather than act on the information that was made public, the FIAU had issued one statement after the other warning that the publishing of FIAU reports was illegal.

The former Opposition leader continued by stating that while the government’s reply said the police did investigate allegations about Schembri, the report drawn up by MEPs stated that the Police Commissioner had confirmed that various FIAU reports were sent to the police, but no investigation was started.

“Didn’t find anything? There were bank transactions. What more could you want,” said Busuttil.