Updated | Appeals court throws out order for Panama Papers investigation

The order was made by Magistrate Ian Farrugia following a request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil who described the decision as 'outrageous' • Government says decision clears 'Prime Minister and others'

Judge Giovanni Grixti said there was not enough detail in the accusations to merit an inquiry
Judge Giovanni Grixti said there was not enough detail in the accusations to merit an inquiry

An order by Magistrate Ian Farrugia for a magisterial inquiry into the revelations from the Panama Papers was revoked by the court of appeals on Tuesday in a decree describing allegations made by former PN leader Simon Busuttil as speculative. 

The court said that the facts presented in and of themselves did not to amount to criminal acts.

Back in July 2017, Magistrate Farrugia had found sufficient grounds for an inquiry to be opened into possible money laundering by government officials and other associates, on the basis of documents made public by the Panama Papers leak in 2016.

The officials were Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, as well as businesspeople Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman.

The inquiry was requested by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who filed a request asking the court to investigate the indicated people. The request was filed some weeks after the 2017 general election. At the time, the request was upheld by Farrugia but the men filed appeals, which were assigned to Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi,

In recounting many occasions, [Busuttil] sees an ulterior motive behind everything, which he is at liberty to do, but he does not say how each one or all together could have been a crime meriting a magisterial inquiry Judge Giovanni Grixti

This prompted Busuttil to file a request asking for the recusal of the judge given that he was married to Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi. The request was turned down, weeks before Mizzi was due to retire, with the cases then assigned to Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti.

In a decree on Tuesday, Judge Grixti concluded that Magistrate Farrugia had not observed the right of the accused to be informed about replies, declarations and new documents presented by Busuttil.

Furthermore, Busuttil’s police report was found not have satisfied the prerequisites laid down in the criminal code since it did not describe the alleged crime or the subject matter of the crime with all its details

The Judge noted that the original application was just Busuttil’s view, adding that “in recounting many occasions, sees an ulterior motive behind everything, which he is at liberty to do, but he does not say how each one or all together could have been a crime meriting a magisterial inquiry”. This, the judge said, qualified the report as speculation.

In his decision Grixti notes that Busuttil had never clearly stated “that the facts as described by him amounted to the crime of money laundering”.

He said Busuttil was obliged to clearly state what crime he believed had been committed and, within the context of the case at hand, to indicate which of the accused persons were involved and how.

“Is seems as though the applicant does not want to assume responsibility, so much so that in sum of his allegations, he says that the German MEP Langen had declared publicly that these facts indicate a textbook case of money laundering. But, the prerequisite for a magisterial inquiry shouldn't be the opinion of a third party, but that the facts stated amount to a criminal act.”

The judge also pointed out that it was extremely unjust for a magistrate to be expected to carry out such investigative work.

“It must be said that isn’t the magistrate’s job nor it is just for it to be expected of him, through a court application like the one being considered, that he orders an investigation to determine in which of the accounts [provided by Busuttil] he can find a crime,” Grixtri said.

In a tweet following the decision Mizzi said the court had dismissed the Panama Papers accusations against him as nothing but speculation.

On his part, Busuttil questioned how the courts could refuse to open an inquiry when Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri had been caught "red-handed".

"This cannot be right. Where can we go for justice to be served in Malta?"

PN MEP David Casa said in a tweet that the inquiry had been requested as a last resort to force the Police Commissioner to take action on overwhelming evidence of corruption. "Today's court decision exposes the grave deficiencies in our rule of law. Obscene."

Government reaction

In a statement, the government referred to the Judge’s assertion that the claims made by Busuttil only amounted to speculation. It said that following the Egrant inquiry, this latest inquiry, which was requested by Busuttil himself, had cleared the Prime Minister and others.

“The allegations made by the member of parliament Simon Busuttil were described by the court as pure speculation, so much so that there weren’t even enough ingredients for an in genere inquiry to be held,” the government said.

It added that the decision confirms a decision by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, in which he had refused a request by Busuttil and MEP David Casa for there to an inquiry into Mizzi and Schembri.

READ ALSO: Konrad Mizzi speaks of vindication and suffering after court ruling

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