Solving crimes, the Maltese way

Victoria Buttigieg and Angelo Gafa have some explaining to do. To the dismay of the Malta Police Union, activists and most right-thinking people on the island, they’ve given yet another plea deal to the type of villain no sensible person would want to meet in broad daylight, let alone on a dark night.

The fortunate recipient of their generosity is Darren ‘it-topo” Debono –  a man apparently devoid of any kind of moral compass. His rap sheet reads like something out of a psychopathy handbook.

He’s been charged with money laundering, armed robbery and attempted homicide of police officers in the course of their duties – his alleged crimes suggest a character that really shouldn’t exist outside of the pages of a crime novel.

And yet this man, this hardened criminal, part of a gang of three the police union says fired as many as 65 bullets at them, has been permitted to somehow, inexplicably, reach an agreement with the Attorney General, no doubt with the blessing of the Police Commissioner, that will see him serve just ten and a half years in prison for his role in the failed 2010 HSBC robbery.

Twelve years after the crime was committed, the Attorney General has also generously decided to drop the charge of attempted homicide against him, notwithstanding the fact that Debono was identified by several police officers on the scene, and that it’s known that he sought medical treatment for gunshot wounds shortly after the crime took place.

Plea deals are used in many countries to help police solve and prosecute crimes, but like any tool, if misused, can cause havoc. In Malta, suspicions only intensify when one realises just how frequently the Maltese authorities have granted pardons or reduced sentences to individuals accused of the most serious of crimes in recent years, in return for information the police should be uncovering themselves, through proper investigation and detection.

Neither Attorney General Buttigieg nor Police Commissioner Gafa has yet deigned to inform the public why exactly they’ve decided to offer this criminal a deal on his part in the HSBC heist.

Instead, as with so much else in this den of iniquity, we are forced to speculate, with suggestions veering wildly from one extreme to another.

Debono has a truly sordid past. Deeply enmeshed with the Maltese criminal underworld for years, this deal was given to him on the eve of the trial of his co-accused in the HSBC case, Vincent ‘il-Koħħu’ Muscat.

The same Muscat who was himself given a reduced sentence after admitting to his role in the assassination of Malta’s foremost journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, in exchange for information about the brutal slaying – as well as a presidential pardon for his role in the 2015 killing of lawyer Carmel Chircop.

According to news reports, Debono will now testify against Muscat in his HSBC trial, the start of which was scheduled for 6 January, but has now been postponed until the magistrates’ court hears and confirms his evidence against Muscat.

What an unholy mess. A hardened career criminal, caught almost literally red-handed robbing a bank and attempting to slaughter multiple police officers, is sentenced to 10 years’ jail time for a crime there should be more than enough evidence to secure a conviction for anyway.

His co-accused, and the man he’s ostensibly been granted this deal to testify against, has himself tried to haggle with the police over information about this, and other, armed robberies in which he participated.

Former policeman and lawyer David Gatt, who used to share an office with disgraced ex-minister Chris Cardona, was accused of masterminding the HSBC robbery, though he was later acquitted in court. Cardona himself has been named as allegedly being part of the plot by several of the criminals involved, while sitting Minister Carmelo Abela, then an HSBC employee, was pinpointed as the alleged ‘inside man’ on the job. Both have denied the claims.

In the morass of information, insinuations and claims being bandied about by the individuals involved in all these crimes, the name of accused financial criminal and ex-OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri has also been thrown into the mix, with several witnesses in the cases against Caruana Galizia’s assassins claiming he was not only involved in the plot to kill her, but also allegedly used Gatt to convey information about the police investigation back to the criminals themselves.

It’s now frighteningly apparent that both the police and the Attorney General are beginning to rely far too heavily on this type of tactic to solve crimes. Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman in the Caruana Galizia murder, may have been the first of the recent clutch of high profile deals of this sort, but his ‘pardon’ has sparked an entire chain reaction from anyone and everyone involved in the crime, including accused mastermind Yorgen Fenech, all pleading to rat on everyone else in return for less, or no, jail time.

Quite apart from the public outrage that such ‘plea deals’ and ‘pardons’ arouse, they empower crooks to hold the country to ransom. Brazenly taunting the police and the courts, declaring they have information about the most serious of crimes, the miscreants attempt to bribe their way to freedom on the back of their own participation in those offences.

It’s also clear that the police and the courts, by allowing this cattle-trading to go on in this way, are leading us onto very precarious ground. If Debono is offering information against Muscat, and Muscat is offering information against Debono, how do we know which one to believe?

Then there are the allegations against Carmelo Abela and Chris Cardona. We already know that Keith Schembri, according to Yorgen Fenech’s doctor, allegedly tried to get Fenech to pin the murder of Caruana Galizia on Chris Cardona. What if there were some similarly sinister machinations going on here? One scoundrel attempting to bury the other?

How do we know, given Malta’s recent history with police malpractice and corruption, that any of these people are actually being rewarded to tell the truth and not, instead, to conceal the truth?

Or perhaps that’s the end goal in itself: muddy the waters with accusations and counter-accusations and watch as the entire judicial process sinks into the inescapable quagmire of deceit and obfuscation they create.

When Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg was appointed, expectations weren’t high at all, although it seemed impossible that anyone could underperform her shameful predecessor Peter Grech. Ditto for Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa, whose predecessor turned the Maltese police force into an international laughing stock.

Sadly, experience is proving that there’s no bottom to this abyss. Buttigieg and Gafa must explain to the public they are committed to serve exactly why they took this decision on Debono. So far, it doesn’t look good at all.

                           
                               
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Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
7 months ago

Hear, hear!

Mick
Mick
7 months ago

Good write up, says it all quite clearly, the real point here is that when writing about these maladministrators it’s essential to remember that they are the pick of the Bogans and at best should be considered mentally challanged without any moral compass and having the attributes of a snake.

Joseph
Joseph
7 months ago

Punch &Judy, two marionettes, useless without the strings, manipulated with them!

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
7 months ago

Crooks in uniform and togas. That is the order of the day in a Mafia Malta.

G Mizzi
G Mizzi
7 months ago

Excellent piece, as usual Blanche.

Your remark as to whether these hardened, politically-connected criminals are being rewarded to tell the truth or hide the truth, is very insightful, albeit extremely disturbing.

Also, maybe someone can enlighten me as to what guarantees are there that this public enemy will stick to his side of the plea bargain and tell the whole truth in court.

Carmelo Borg
7 months ago

Bir ragun li il maggoranza taz zazah irridu jitilqu min Dan il PAJJIZ MISHUT minmli MAFJA GEJJA L EWWEL MIN NIES LI SUPPOST JARAW LI IL LIGIJIET JIGU OSERVATI. HLIEF HNIZRIJIET M HAWNX

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
7 months ago

This is a plea deal that stinks to high heaven.

Dione Cassar
Dione Cassar
7 months ago

How low can this country of ours sink? Where is the moral fibre, where has honesty and decency gone? What a disgrace to the police force and to the office of the AG!

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
7 months ago

MALTA – THE LAUGHING STOCK OF EUROPE.

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