Last updated 1.34pm with testimony by Magistrate Vella's father, brother.

The police search at Joseph Muscat's home in January last year followed a decree by a magistrate which stated that to date, there is enough to show that he could be involved in the crime of money laundering and corruption,” a police superintendent told a court on Thursday.

Superintendent James Grech was testifying in constitutional proceedings by the former prime minister who wants the magistrate removed from the inquiry she is carrying out into the Vitals hospital contract. 

Muscat is claiming that his fundamental rights will be breached if Magistrate Gabriella Vella continues to conduct the inquiry after she classified as "free speech" Facebook posts uploaded by her father and brother about the Vitals controversy

Asked about the purpose of the search, Grech said the searches ordered by the inquiring magistrate serve to seize objects of crime so as to preserve them. 

He said that on the day of the search, he arrived at Muscat's house in Burmarrad at 7am accompanied by Inspector Anthony Scerri and a number of court experts.

Asked whether it was normal police practice for such searches to take place early morning, the witness pointed out that sometimes searches took place earlier.

Inspector Anthony Scerri from the Financial Crimes Investigations Department at the home of Joseph Muscat. Photo: Matthew MirabelliInspector Anthony Scerri from the Financial Crimes Investigations Department at the home of Joseph Muscat. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

He said Muscat’s wife answered the doorbell through the intercom. The door opened and the former prime minister asked how many people were present with the police. 

“Bring them all in. Don’t leave anyone outside,” he directed. 

Everyone stepped inside, including the witness, Inspector Scerri, court experts and a female inspector was asked to go along so as to have a female officer present in view of Muscat’s wife and daughters.

Asked whether the police had handed Muscat a copy of the magisterial decree in his regard, Grech said that “if memory served [him] well” that document was in a plastic folder which inspector Scerri handed to Muscat as per standard police procedure. 

The witness’s testimony was suspended while the parties’ lawyers debated whether documents from the magisterial inquiry that was not public, could be exhibited in the constitutional case. 

An assistant registrar at the Criminal Courts and tribunals took the witness stand next, explaining how she had filed an application in the magisterial inquiry for authorisation to present a number of documents which Muscat wished to produce in evidence in his breach of rights case. 

Magistrate Vella had upheld the request in respect of certain documents, but withheld consent in respect of others. 

Those consented to, including the January 15, 2022, decree which triggered the search, were presented in the constitutional proceedings today.

'I did not express myself' - Magistrate's brother testifies

Magistrate Vella’s brother, lawyer Massimo Vella, testified that his social media comment was in reply to a post uploaded by fellow advocate Anna Mallia following Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale’s judgment annulling the controversial hospitals concession. 

Mallia’s post ran along the lines that people tended to forget that it was a Labour government that introduced the mechanism which permitted former Opposition Leader Adrian Delia to challenge the deal in court. 

That was a reference to the Government Lands Act which entitled certain public officers and MPs to institute proceedings to annul such a contract. 

Mallia’s post appeared just days after the damning judgment delivered on February 24, 2023 upholding Delia’s claims. 

His comment, Vella said, published under that post, was to register disagreement with Mallia’s logic. 

“So are we to say ‘well done’ (prosit) to Labour that had created the mechanism to solve the “tahwida”(mess) that was it’s own making. Good.” 

That was the gist of Vella’s comment. 

Shown a copy of the post and comment, the witness explained that there were other comments which had not been included in that copy. He produced a more comprehensive copy himself. 

Another reader, Paul Bonello, had in fact added on to Vella’s comment saying that it was “no taħwida but a massive fraud.” 

“I did not express myself…I only criticized the logic behind Mallia’s argument,” said Vella, stressing that “by no stretch of the imagination” was his comment “a step beyond the civil discussion.” 

“I did not mention anyone by name and made no reference to fraud.” 

His use of the term “taħwida” referred to the hospitals contract which was cancelled, he insisted. 

“It’s an unpleasant situation. It could have been a grocery store round the corner, let alone the hospitals,” added the witness, explaining in detail the context in which he had commented on Facebook. 

He said that following delivery of the Vitals judgment, he had downloaded a copy which he went through, just as a matter of interest. 

“The judgment was crystal clear….There was a particular paragraph where the judge stated that there was no wrongdoing by the government but that those involved may have been ‘ingenuous’.”

Asked by Muscat’s lawyer, Charlon Gouder, whether he knew when the hospitals contract was signed and by whom, the witness said that he “absolutely had no visibility of that except whatever he read in the newspapers.” 

“Under which administration was it signed?”pressed on Gouder. 

“I think it was under Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. But I did not single out anyone. I don’t know what involvement he had. All I know is that the contract was rescinded.” 

He said he had also read about the “100 million penalty clause,” which had struck him as “slightly odd,” since it entailed payment by the government even if the deal was cancelled on account of some shortcoming by the other party. 

“But I’ve no idea whether that clause was introduced under the administration of Joseph Muscat or Robert Abela."

He said he had published a separate post about that clause, knowing only that “someone had signed an addendum” to the original hospitals contract. 

But his knowledge was limited to what he read in the papers and his comment was purely related to “a civil matter” which a criminal court had nothing to do with. 

Issues were never discussed with the magistrate, brother insists

Vella stressed that he had never discussed with his sister either those comments or anything related to the hospitals issue. 

“Nothing related to our work,” said the witness, adding that he and his sister did not meet much and when they did it was generally at some family event, in the presence of their children and grandparents.

“Anything related to her work and mine is never discussed. She says nothing and no one asks her anything. It is very clear, very plain, very simple.” 

“I have never had any political involvement in my life. I never participated in any political manifestation, never was on any party station and was never a member of any political party.”

When elections came along, he simply went to vote “and that’s all.”

As for his sister, even when the siblings worked at their father’s law firm, they had separate casework and clientele until she was appointed to the bench in 2009, he said.

Magistrate Vella's father: 'Every upright person should also take a stand against corruption'

Magistrate Vella’s father, lawyer Aldo Vella, testified next, confirming that he had “liked or shared” a Facebook post about a public protest against corruption. 

“I did so just to affirm my principle against corruption. I passed no judgment on anyone.” 

Shown a document related to that post, the witness identified three figures who featured in the post. 

“Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi,” replied the witness when asked to identify the figures, adding that he had never met any one of them personally.

“I just wanted to reaffirm my principles. And every upright person should also take a stand against corruption.” 

As questions shifted towards his daughter, the witness went straight to the point. 

“I know that Gabriella is handling the Vitals inquiry but I assure you that I never spoke to her or tried to influence her about this inquiry or any other work.” 

All he knew about the inquiry was what he frequently read in the media, he said. 

He had also read that Muscat had requested to testify.

But he did not know whether Muscat was being investigated.

“However I have no direct or indirect information from Gabriella….I only reaffirmed my belief. I never went to that protest or any other protest because I don’t participate in any activity.” 

When he visited his daughter, it was to spend some time with his grandchildren. 

“But we don’t talk about work,”  he said.

Law History professor, Ray Mangion, also testified about the legal institute of recusal. 

The case, presided by Madam Justice Doreen Clarke, continues in August.Lawyer Charlon Gouder is assisting Muscat.Lawyers James D’Agostino and Isaac Zammit represent the State Advocate’s Office.

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