[WATCH] Owen Bonnici defends Malta's justice system during MEP grilling

Cross-examined by Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes and German MEP Sven Giegold, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that he trusted the Maltese justice system and that he had full faith that justice would not only be done but seen to be done

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici

Justice minister Owen Bonnici was grilled by MEPs from the special committee on financial crime and tax avoidance in the European Parliament, where he defended Malta’s justice system. 

Bonnici told MEPs Malta had a functioning rule of law and defended the inquiries which had found no cause for a further criminal investigation into whether the prime minister owned a Panamanian company, and the one which found technical irregularities in a request for a general investigation into the Panama Papers. 

“The two major inquiries which have concluded revealed that there were no legal grounds to proceed against the people who were branded by others as being corrupt,” Bonnici said. “Rather in the case concerning the Prime Minister and his wife it was established that someone forged document in order to frame-up an innocent family.” 

Portuguese socialist MEP Ana Gomes took the floor, asking why the criminal investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder was being ‘blocked’. Bonnici said Malta had arrested three people in connection with the murder. “We even asked for the help of international bodies to figure out who the mastermind is. We won't rest until he's known.” 

Bonnici defended the government’s suppression of the Caruana Galizia memorial at the Great Siege monument, insisting that supporters of the shrine could apply for a proper memorial to be installed without hindrance. 

Bonnici also referred to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission report, saying that nowhere in the report was it stated that Malta suffers from a persistent failure in its legal system. “Our reformist agenda is committed to accepting change and moving forward.” 

Bonnici also said that a total of 237 cases revealed in the Panama Papers were under investigation. 

German MEP Sven Giegold asked how the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi could stay in office after being investigated and how Mizzi could get away with lying that his Panama company was a shell company opened for family reasons when it was clearly a business opportunity related to a source of income, the Dubai company 17 Black, belonging to Tumas Group’s Yorgen Fenech. 

“Each major investigation is being investigated by a magistrate, which enjoys independence. A process is ongoing on the issue of 17 Black but I don’t know anything more than what is already in the public domain. Just because I am justice minister doesn't mean that I should know the details of each investigation. That would be dangerous,” Bonnici said. 


Reuters journalist Stephen Grey’s statements 

Stephen Grey, the jourlnaist largely responsible for the story that revealed the beneficial owner of 17 Black as Yorgen Fenech, said that like all journalists, Daphne Caruana Galizia made some errors. “'She was antagonistic towards the Maltese Labour party and I don’t believe she got everything right. As they say, you’re only as good as your sources, but I do believe that there is a sense of impunity in Malta,” he said. 

With only seven minutes allocated to his speech, Grey asked the question of whether Maltese institutions would have been investigated had Caruana Galizia been alive. 

He outlined the findings of the Daphne Project, saying that weak financial control of Malta’s institutions allowed Pilatus Bank, with strong ties to the Azerbaijan government to operate in Malta. 

“The bank chairman, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, told Maltese authorities that his nationality was Saint Kitts, when a proper background check would have revealed that he was in fact Iranian. The Prime Minister eventually attended this man's wedding,” Grey said, adding that Pilatus was practically a bank that handled the accounts of the rulers of Azerbaijan. 

Grey asked the delegates whether an allegation of corruption touching a European nation can continue to be immune to investigation. “There seems to be no mechanism or agency to pick up an investigation even when this crosses borders,” he said. 

He argued that Malta was attracting capital from the ‘wild east’ but also new capital in loosely regulated fields like gambling and, more recently, cryptocurrency. 


Matthew Caruana Galizia’s statements 

The late journalist’s son did not hold back and told the delegates, in no uncertain terms, that Malta bred “a criminal conspiracy that was created to illegally profit from the privatisation of Malta's energy sector,” naming Nexia BT's Karl Cini and Brian Tonna, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat as individuals of a criminal gang. 

Caruana Galizia said the power station selection committee was personally chaired by Brian Tonna, Mr Schembri’s personal accountant. 

“Socar trading, the Azeri company, pockets 40 million US dollars from every single transaction, every time it ships gas to Malta. Malta then converts gas into electricity and the Maltese people have no choice. The terms of this agreement were never publicised,” Caruana Galizia said, adding that approximately 1 billion US dollars would leave the Maltese economy as profit for Azerbaijan’s Socar Trading just for playing the unnecessary role of middleman. 

He said that the government’s sole mission now was to cover up corruption and his mother’s death since the late journalist, up until her death, had been publishing articles on the same shady deal following information that was passed on to her by a whistle-blower.