Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti hawn.
Evarist Bartolo’s former canvasser has been acquitted of bribery, corruption and accepting thousands of euros in kickbacks. Not because he wasn’t corrupt. Not because he didn’t take the money.
Edward Caruana was exonerated thanks to the usual prosecution strategy – simply botch the charge sheet, just bungle the accusations, and the court will let him off.
Another of Labour’s untouchables, neck deep in filth, has been miraculously freed – acquitted of all charges. Caruana was charged as a public official. Although he worked at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS), an entity belonging to the government, he was not, according to the court’s judgement, a public official.
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech decided that “by no stretch of the imagination” could Caruana be deemed a public official. Since the alleged crimes were attributed to Caruana as a public official and that “essential requisite” was not proven, the court didn’t even bother to delve further – it simply acquitted Caruana.
Caruana’s liberation was meticulously and elegantly devised through the sheer hard work of our ‘functioning’ institutions. From the police to the Attorney General’s office, to the courts, to Evarist Bartolo’s ministry.
Caruana’s case should have been a walkover for the prosecution. Philip Rizzo, the former CEO at FTS, compiled a 200-page report on Caruana’s crimes. The police didn’t have to do any work. Fake invoices, unsigned receipts, forged signatures – it was all there.
Even without Rizzo’s dossier, all the police needed to do was drive up to Rabat and marvel at Edward Caruana’s huge corner development consisting of 10 residential units and several garages estimated to cost €2 million. Caruana built all that on a basic salary and without taking any loans.
Caruana personally handed out cheques worth over €8 million to contractors, in blatant transgression of the rules. €5.5 million were paid to the same group of suppliers who were meant to be working on Gozo schools.
Caruana presented seven invoices worth €25,000 to be approved by Rizzo within days of the latter’s appointment. But no work had been done for that money.
The invoices Caruana presented were manifestly fake. Three of them weren’t even signed. In another, the contractor’s signature was forged.
Since all the invoices exceeded €2,500, Rizzo couldn’t authorise them, so he asked his permanent secretary. The permanent secretary was Edward’s brother, Joseph Caruana.
Instead of commending Rizzo for raising concerns about Edward’s corruption, Joseph flew into a rage. “What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you think I know what these (invoices) are?”, he told Rizzo.
Rizzo met seven contractors named on those invoices. They looked puzzled. They were not owed any money by FTS and couldn’t understand what invoices Rizzo was talking about.
Another contractor, Joe Carabott, whose signature appeared on one of the invoices for work purportedly done on Gozo schools, denied ever having done any work in Gozo. He confirmed that the signature on the invoice wasn’t his.
Carabott had worked on the Dingli school. He informed Rizzo that Caruana had pressed him for a 3% commission on the value of the works and a 40-foot container full of tiles of Caruana’s choosing.
Rizzo soon discovered that Caruana was developing a huge corner block in Rabat. He also found out why Caruana wanted all those tiles.
When Rizzo informed then-minister Evarist Bartolo about Carabott’s revelations, Bartolo promised he would send for Carabott. Two days later, Bartolo sent Rizzo an e-mail telling him that Carabott withdrew all accusations.
Bartolo had known since April 2016 about Caruana’s alleged corruption. But he waited until the end of August before starting any investigation.
For weeks, Bartolo tried dissuading Rizzo from reporting the case to the police. When challenged, Bartolo denied he had obstructed justice but later admitted failing to report the case immediately – he was waiting for “a smoking gun”.
In September 2016, Bartolo finally ordered Caruana to be transferred from FTS to his original post. But Caruana’s brother, the permanent secretary, instead decided to transfer him to another ministry on a €50,000 salary.
It’s worth noting that Caruana’s brother was Prime Minister Robert Abela’s choice for tax commissioner. Abela replaced Marvin Gaerty with Joseph Caruana.
When another contractor, Giovann Vella, reported Caruana for asking for a €30,000 backhander, the police dragged Vella to court, just days after Caruana lodged a report on 1 September 2015.
The police charged Vella with defamation but failed to investigate Caruana. It took more than three years for Vella to be finally cleared.
Meanwhile, the police still refused to investigate Caruana. More than a year after Evarist Bartolo and Joseph Muscat attempted to silence Philip Rizzo, the police had still taken no action.
After suspending himself on full pay and with all his perks, Caruana continued to build his corner block on Pius V Street in Rabat.
Faced with public outrage at the flagrant dereliction of duty, the police finally charged Caruana. In March 2018, despite having his assets frozen, Caruana put his apartments on the market.
In November 2021, before the case had even been decided, the same magistrate who let him walk free decided to unfreeze Caruana’s assets except for €5,000 held by the Director of the Asset Recovery Bureau.
Caruana is now acquitted of all charges – on a technicality and a “strange” interpretation of the law by the magistrate. His exoneration hinged on the most ridiculous of issues – whether he was a public official.
Embarrassed by its own gross perversion of justice, the Court ordered the police commissioner to investigate any “persons who issued false invoices”.
That same commissioner was also ordered to prosecute Pilatus officials – but let them in and out of the country.
He was ordered to arrest Iosif Galea – but let him travel on holiday with Joseph Muscat.
He was ordered to take action against his predecessor but hasn’t. He let Anton Refalo keep his Victoria Regina artefact.
He ignored the court’s ruling that Ian Borg’s testimony was “not credible”. He forgot FIAU reports on Konrad Mizzi.
If all the institutions cooperate so effectively to clear even Evarist Bartolo’s canvasser, how can we expect Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri or Joseph Muscat ever to face justice?