Chamber of Advocates’ statement targeting journalists ‘missed the point’ – lawyers

Two veteran lawyers have called out the Chamber of Advocates’ criticism of The Shift for revealing the trips to Montenegro made by Konrad Mizzi’s personal lawyer Aron Mifsud Bonnici, saying that his presence should be questioned and was potentially dangerous.

Lawyers Franco Vassallo and Paul Pullicino pointed out that Mifsud Bonnici’s presence on a number of official trips made by Mizzi to Montenegro was incompatible and the Chamber’s recent criticism was uncalled for.

“The Chamber seems to be forgetting that, in the real world, the position of legal advisor to a company may not compatible with being a company secretary to the same company,” Vassallo told The Shift.

Last week, the Chamber of Advocates issued a statement directed at The Shift and blogger Manuel Delia, maintaining that the role of a lawyer is to safeguard and defend his client’s [legal] rights, and in that sense, any “attack” on any lawyer who would be “fulfilling his duty in accordance with his oath of service” can never be justified.

The Shift was specifically mentioned in the statement because it had revealed that Mifsud Bonnici was accompanying Mizzi on trips related to the corrupt wind farm project in Mozura, Montenegro. Energy Minister Michael Farrugia had refused to name the lawyer in a reply to a parliamentary question and simply listed him as an “advisor”.

The Shift pointed to photographs published in the Montenegrin media that revealed who the ‘secret’ advisor was.

Vassallo pointed out that although Mifsud Bonnici was Mizzi’s lawyer, the former minister was in Montenegro for an official trip and not a personal one.

“Enemalta has its lawyers and Mifsud Bonnici is secretary to the Board. As far as I know, when you’re a secretary of a Board, you’re deemed as an officer of that company and you cannot serve as its lawyer in potential conflict issues as well,” he said.

The multiple trips to Montenegro have become the subject of media interest and also a number of parliamentary questions after The Shift revealed that a wind farm project in Mozura was surrounded by allegations of serious corruption.

A recent investigation by Reuters, published also by The Times of Malta, found that Yorgen Fenech, the man suspected of masterminding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, raked in millions from the dirty deal in Montenegro through his company 17 Black.

Pullicino said that put simply, the Chamber’s statement missed the point. “This is a situation where a company employs a director’s personal lawyer as a lawyer to the company and is a clear case of conflict of interest,” he said.

Describing Mifsud Bonnici’s position as “incompatible and dangerous”, Pullicino pointed out that the situation was like having one lawyer representing two parties in a legal battle over an inheritance.

At some point in time, their interests will differ, he said.

Pullicino explained that one of the major rules in advocacy was that a lawyer should always be one step ahead to avoid any possible conflict of interest. “It’s a theoretical issue but comes to life in practice.”

Earlier this year, Mifsud Bonnici resigned his role as Enemalta’s Board secretary and was replaced by lawyer Ishmael Psaila, who has appeared as the legal defence for former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri while testifying in court proceedings involving Fenech.

The Shift will be publishing fresh revelations on the Montenegro deal today – the result of a collaboration with the country’s largest newspaper DAN in a project supported by journalismfund.eu

                           
                               
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