Court clears way for party financing probe into PN donations from hotel group

The Constitutional Court says the Electoral Commission can investigate as well as pass judgement on a party financing probe into donations to the PN

Simon Busuttil had revealed during a PN fund-raiser that the db Group had threatened to stop financing party salaries
Simon Busuttil had revealed during a PN fund-raiser that the db Group had threatened to stop financing party salaries

The Constitutional Court has rejected claims by the Nationalist Party that the electoral commission cannot investigate an alleged breach of party financing and pass judgement.

In March 2017, the PN was being accused of breaching the law, when hotelier Silvio Debono - the owner of the db Group – claimed that he had been asked to pay the salaries of two PN executives, through donations paid through Media.Link, the PN’s media company.

This prompted the Electoral Commission to appoint an investigative board to probe all the cases of alleged breaches of the law that were brought to its attention.

The PN had however argued that the commission could not act as judge, jury and executioner, with then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil arguing that past court sentences had shown that the same entity could not be both investigator and judge.

It said that this was both in breach of the constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, arguing also that the party had never received a formal notification of the nature of the investigation.

In a 147-page judgment handed down yesterday however, the Constitutional Court said: “The Electoral Commission has the power to investigation, pass judgment, and penalise. This notwithstanding, the court also considers that as the regulator, the Electoral Commission is not a prosecutor because its main purpose is to ensure that rules are observed,” read the judgment handed down by judge Joseph Zammit McKeon.

It added that the Commission was above party politics and independent of the political parties being investigated.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court also noted that the proceedings in front of the Electoral Commission were not final, and that the PN could appeal any decision before the Civil Court.

Regarding claims by the PN that it had not been notified of the investigation, the court argued that the commission had taken no action against the PN but had merely stated that it was evaluating the circumstances of the case to determine a way forward, and that it was only after this investigation that it could conclude there was something for the PN to answer to.