“It’s not that we want to hide the truth”, the Attorney General’s lawyers insisted. “We are not trying to hide anything.”
No, they’re just desperate to keep everything secret. And they got their way.
The AG’s office managed to coerce Judge Falzon Scerri into conducting the court hearing behind closed doors, with the public locked out of proceedings.
Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is going to unprecedented lengths to protect Pilatus Bank and its owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.
On Monday 7th November, Buttigieg filed a request pleading to avoid testifying. The Court had ruled that the AG should testify in the case lodged by Repubblika regarding the AG’s defiance of a magisterial decree to prosecute Ali Sadr Hasheminejad and other senior Pilatus officials.
Repubblika maintained that Buttigieg issued orders not to prosecute Pilatus officials. Even Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa pinned the blame on Buttigieg for failing to issue arrest warrants despite the inquiring magistrate’s recommendation.
Buttigieg pulled out all the stops to avoid testifying or exhibiting documents in court, going so far as to claim that the court was breaching the law when it compelled her to testify. Unsurprisingly, the court rubbished her claims and rejected her request outright. Her arguments were as pathetic as they come.
Her first excuse was that it hadn’t been decided whether Repubblika qualified as an injured party, and therefore the NGO had no right to challenge her decision.
Her second excuse was that Repubblika should have written to her first asking her to reconsider her decision not to prosecute Pilatus officials before requesting a judicial review. She accused Repubblika of conducting a “fishing expedition”, claiming they had never brought any proof of the existence of what she called “the alleged documents” showing that she issued an order not to prosecute those officials.
Besides, Buttigieg claimed, those “alleged documents” could not be exhibited in civil proceedings anyway.
The Attorney General was firing wild shots into the air in all directions in her desperation to avoid testifying. She claimed the court’s order for her to testify breached the secrecy of criminal investigation acts. And she insisted that making those acts public breached the presumption of innocence.
How does exhibiting a document in which she prohibited prosecution of Pilatus Bank officials impinge on those officials’ presumption of innocence? By this point, Buttigieg seemed to have lost touch with rationality.
She even went so far as to claim that, by compelling her to testify, the court was breaking her fundamental right to a fair hearing. You would think being given the opportunity to present her case would increase the likelihood of a fair hearing rather than diminish it.
She accused the court of subjecting her to procedures that are not being conducted according to law, and claimed she was being compelled to exercise her constitutional duties by Repubblika, who had no right to lodge this case.
Buttigieg pleaded with the court to reconsider its decision to make her testify and to revoke its decree, but the court was not having any of her nonsense, ruling that the Criminal Code “cannot be invoked to stop this court from performing its duties.” And so Attorney General Buttigieg was left with no choice but to testify.
She dragged her entire office with her. A squadron of lawyers from the AG’s office turned up by her side. Even State Advocate Chris Soler was there. They were determined that, no matter what the court said, they would not let anything out about Pilatus. Everything must be kept secret — at all costs.
Before proceedings even started, the AG’s cadets were insisting testimony be heard behind closed doors and that the documents exhibited be kept under lock and key. None of the information was to to reach the public.
More pathetic excuses were presented to justify this latest ploy. We can’t let any information out because it could jeopardize ongoing investigations, they claimed.
What investigations? The AG stopped all prosecutions and refused to issue arrest warrants. What investigations is she talking about?
And then they said there are ongoing proceedings before an international tribunal that bind the Maltese state to secrecy. Therefore, Buttigieg claimed, they can’t release any information to the public.
Guess what? Those foreign proceedings are secret, and they prohibit any documents from being presented in court. According to the Attorney General, if the secret is broken, “there could be negative repercussions for Malta.”
Repercussions more serious than Malta’s having had a laundromat for politically exposed persons to shovel their dirty money through, unfettered and unhindered, for years?
Neither the AG nor her squadron of minions had thought to bring some document or proof of these ongoing “proceedings before an international tribunal”. No, the court was expected to take the AG at her word.
“If the nulle prosequi is made public,” the judge asked, “does that breach confidentiality?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the minions replied. Malta could even be held in contempt of court!
Faced with such stubborn resistance, particularly from the State Advocate, the court backed down. The judge said the court did not wish to place Malta in “such a position”. The court would continue to hear the case behind closed doors until the AG provided evidence of those mysterious “foreign proceedings” and their conditions of confidentiality.
State Advocate Soler expressed his doubts about whether this was even possible, saying, “I don’t have control over a foreign tribunal.” But somehow this foreign tribunal has control over our entire country and its judicial system.
The “foreign proceedings” he referred to were instituted by Ali Sadr Hasheminejad through one of his companies in Hong Kong.
From half way around the world, Ali Sadr is still dictating what happens in our court, what our Attorney General does, and the State Advocate’s antics.
He’s still controlling what we know about his sordid enterprise in Ta’ Xbiex and his famous clients: Keith Schembri, John Dalli, Brian Tonna, Adrian Hillman, Chen Cheng, and Ilham Aliyev’s daughters.
No wonder Victoria Buttigieg is bending over backwards to extend him a blanket of secrecy.