Updated with additional information from insider sources
Criminal lawyer Matthew Xuereb, whose name was mentioned in court this week for his alleged involvement in paying off a witness, was appointed chairperson of the Home Affairs Ministry’s Immigration Appeals Board in May.
Xuereb was mentioned in a court case involving a suspected drug trafficker out on seven bail decrees, who allegedly offered €47,000 to a witness for false testimony.
Xuereb was questioned by Police and may face charges for visiting the witness in prison without a justifiable reason, given he was neither the accused nor the witness’ lawyer.
He has chaired the third division of the Immigration Appeals Board since May. The board is tasked with deciding appeals on decisions related to visas, age assessments, detention of asylum-seekers, reception conditions and removal orders, among others.
Humanitarian NGOs have claimed the board breaches the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights requirements for an effective remedy, failing to provide independent and fair public hearings.
On Tuesday, The Times of Malta reported how alleged drug trafficker Terence Cini paid off witness Michael John Mugliette for false testimony. Mugliette had testified against Cini on a 2020 drug deal he was allegedly involved in.
Police Inspectors Mark Anthony Mercieca and John Leigh Howard told the presiding magistrate, Nadine Lia, that Xuereb had spoken to Mugliette in prison. Xuereb is among others who have been questioned and may be charged for suborning a witness about the case.
In comments to Malta Today, Xuereb said he “voluntarily attended to explain each and every detail I am aware of with regards to this case to the police,” assuring them of his cooperation.
Sources close to the investigation told The Shift that not only was Xuereb neither the accused nor the witness’ lawyer, but he was summoned for questioning upon request by Mercieca and Howard.
The inspectors asked for a warrant of arrest from the duty magistrate, however it is not know if the warrant was issued.
As part of the police investigation, insider sources claimed Xuereb’s phone was seized. It is understood that investigations are ongoing.
Xuereb, who has previously worked at the office of his uncle, former Attorney General Peter Grech, was appointed to the board this May. The board contains members Daniel Attard and Joey Reno Vella, with Duncan Genuis serving as secretary.
Despite ostensibly being ‘ independent ‘, the appeals board has been consistently filled with political appointees. Alexander Scerri Herrera and Maria Cardona, political appointees recently employed as ambassadors of the Maltese government, also serve as board members.
Cardona is disgraced former minister Chris Cardona’s former wife, and Scerri Herrera is former minister José Herrera’s nephew. José Herrera and the recently appointed Xuereb form the same defence team.
In 2021, Xuereb jumped ship from his work at the AG’s office, defending Mark Gaffarena in a lawsuit filed and supported by his former office.
In comments to The Shift in May, NGO Aditus Foundation Director Neil Falzon noted how Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri can “effectively appoint Board members, with close to nil requirement of technical expertise or experience”, further noting how the same board is “is entirely dependent on the ministry for its budget, administration and resources,” further compromising its impartiality.