Two former senior ministers and three permanent secretaries faced charges in connection with the hospitals scandal on Wednesday, but a marathon 11-hour sitting is expected to be nullified after one of the accused was absent from the court room.

Former health minister Chris Fearne and Central Bank governor Edward Scicluna led a list of 14 officials charged with 'lesser crimes' as the hospitals debacle reaches a critical phase. All pleaded not guilty.

But an 11-hour sitting ended in disbelief after it transpired that one of the defendants representing DF Advocates was not notified about the proceedings.

The long session in court also confirmed that the prosecutions were relying on the strength of the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals debacle and there was no police report to back the findings. 

Several senior government officials sat as they saw a series of defence lawyers tear into the prosecution's arguments though the court ruled that was admissible.


'We will hold you responsible'

11pm Repubblika honorary president Robert Aquilina and lawyer Jason Azzopardi pin the blame of Wednesday's court debacle squarely on the shoulders of police commissioner An─ílu Gafa’ and Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg.

"If you mess up the judicial process, we will hold you personally responsible," read a Facebook post at the end of the proceedings.

'There will be consequences'

10.15pm The prosecution exhibits the notices for one of the accused - DF Advocates. The magistrate observes that the individuals were notified in their personal capacity. In terms of legal procedure, that meant the entity itself was absent from today’s hearing. This meant that one of the accused was not served notice for these proceedings with all the legal consequences that this carries.

And consequently, the case was being deferred to June 11 at 11am for the court to proceed according to law.

Debono warns that there will be legal consequences.

De Marco adds: "The legal consequences are nullity. Let's state facts as they are."

The magistrate turns to the prosecution and gives them a dressing down.

"I would expect the prosecution to have told the court that DF Advocates was not notified at 11am. You chose to press charges. Now it’s you to decide what to do. Had you told the court first thing this morning all would be home with their families by now!"

This impacts Wednesday's proceedings and not Tuesday's.

Chamber directs lawyers not to proceed further

10.10pm Debono informs the magistrate that the Chamber of Advocates just issued a directive that they are to work till 10pm.

"Was this a general directive or just for this case," asks the magistrate.

"No, for this case."

The chamber directed the lawyers not to proceed further with the case because they cannot assist their clients to the best of their abilities. (spare a thought for those poor journalists who have been covering this for longer!)

The magistrate takes note and asks the defence to stay on for a further 30 minutes simply to close the chapter of prosecution exhibiting the notices of service.

Surreal atmosphere

9.50pm The atmosphere inside court is surreal. We have been stuck inside hall 22 with former political heavyweights and senior civil servants for 11 hours and we still don’t know how it will end.

Could the whole case be declared null? It's unlikely but the defence are pushing and pushing.

And the prosecution are defending their case as best as they can.

Our court reporter and lawyer Edwina Brincat says she has rarely seen a sitting like this. 

A €20 million damages claim?

9.40pm Debono asks who was served notice on behalf of DF Advocates.

Good question, says the magistrate.

"There was no notice of service of summons as such," says the AG lawyer. Farrugia and the two Deguaras were notified. 

But the magistrate points out that prosecution chose to charge DF Advocates as an entity. And Kenneth Deguara is charged as CFO.

"We’re alleging that funds flowed through that company."

Debono says that if the prosecution goes ahead and insists on a €20 million freezing order they’re exposing the state to a €20 million damages claim.

Legal ping-pong continues

9.35pm Debono says that proceedings were dragged out because of mistakes by the prosecution. The magistrate blocks that line of argument.

It's 9.30pm and the prosecution has again asked for a correction of the charges, stresses Debono.

It's a never-ending game of legal ping-pong in the court room. 

'Who clapped?'

9.05pm There's palpable tension in the court room. 

At one point someone in the room claps. 

The magistrate wants to know who clapped. Nobody answers.

"Who clapped?" he repeats.

Nobody volunteers.

Nearly 10 hours later!

8.55pm Most people in the crowded court room are clearly tired and getting jittery now. Do you blame them? They've been stuck there for almost 10 hours. 

And many outside of that court room are starting to fear this session will go down in legal history for all the wrong reasons. 

Edward Scicluna (right) is accompanied into the court this morning. Photo: Chris Sant FournierEdward Scicluna (right) is accompanied into the court this morning. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Charges won't be withdrawn

8.45pm  The magistrate returns.

So on what legal basis did the prosecution charge DF Advocates, which is just a trade name? AG cited article 121D. The court ordered DF advocates to answer personal details but the question about the plea will not be put to any individual. So it’s DF Advocates only, with no plea at this stage.

The legal team asks the court to consider withdrawal of the charges against it, the same way they were withdrawn in respect of another entity. 

Refalo declared that the prosecution was not going to withdraw the charges.

After a pause, Refalo returns to the court room to say DF Advocates is represented in court today. And there are three persons who may represent it.

So the AG will not withdraw the charges against DF Advocates.

What's in a name?

8.11pm Lawyer Ezekiel Psaila points out that DF Advocates is the trade name.

"So how did the prosecution conclude who is to represent it?"

The company is the last one on the charge sheet.

Refalo says that DF Advocates are a corporate body. But the defence ask him to substantiate that.

It’s a trade name. It’s not a corporate body. So who does the AG expect to answer to the criminal charges? A corporate body is a state of fact. It implies a CEO for instance. On what basis did AG issue this charge?

Refalo says there is evidence that funds flowed through this firm. He doesn’t wish to go into the merits. But whether a trade name or anything else, someone must answer, Refalo argues.

The magistrate again walks out. 

'Not guilty'

8pm We finally got to the plea stage of the arraignment - all those charged plead not guilty. 

Chris Fearne, 61, surgeon 

Edward Scicluna, 77, Governor of Central Bank

Ronald Mizzi, 41, permanent secretary

Alfred Camilleri, 64, pensioner

Joseph Rapa, 57, public official

Kenneth Deguara, 44, employee

Kevin Deguara, 47, lawyer

Jean Carl Farrugia, 48, lawyer

Deborah Anne Chappell, 37, lawyer

Bradley Gatt, 43, lawyer

Aron Mifsud Bonnici, 50, lawyer

James Camenzuli, 53, engineer

Manuel Castagna, 50, accountant

Robert Borg, 50, auditor

'We don't know why we're here'

7.48pm Refalo from the AG's office counters that all accused had the 1,200-page report and so, none of them suffered breach of rights.

The magistrate says that at this stage the process verbal cannot be exhibited because the personal examination of the accused has not yet been done and the prosecution has not yet exhibited its evidence.

Tonna Lowell says that he and his clients read all 1,200 page-report and they “still don’t know why they’re here.”

More than eight hours later...

7.45pm "Please stand," the magistrate tells the accused. 

But no. Lawyer David Farrugia Sacco speaks for the first time and wants a constitutional reference too.

"There was nothing to replace the missing police report. That report was substituted by the process verbal but that process verbal is not exhibited in these proceedings," he says.

The magistrate tells the accused to sit down again.

"Let me make it clear. This sitting will come to an end today. Be it at 10pm or later," says the magistrate.

Farrugia Sacco, on behalf of James Camenzuli, minutes that the process verbal is missing and his request for a constitutional reference is not frivolous or vexatious. The prosecution rebuts. 

Police, AG accused of not investigating

7.40pm The AG and police should not have reached this stage with the charges simply because they relied on the process verbal.

"They should have investigated too to see if they agreed before issuing charges. The AG and police should have consulted before issuing such serious accusations against persons with an untainted criminal record," de Marco says.

The inspector is called back in. He says that he got the 1,200 page inquiry and the magistrate’s conclusions where she said what charges were to be pressed.

Since the police officer declared on oath that the inquiry report served as the basis for the charges, the court deems that the dictates of law were satisfied. 

'The court cannot proceed'

7.30pm De Marco asks if the action to prosecute was simply taken based on the final part of the inquiry and that he didn’t see the evidence.

Magistrate says that the purpose of that question is not permissible at this stage. Question disallowed.

Lawyer Galea insists: "What led the prosecutor to issue those charges? I feel that that is a legitimate question."

Lawyer Filletti adds: "we're circumventing the whole system. They just gave them the final part of the inquiry and told them to issue charges. At this point, we’re going to ask for discharge (liberatorja). The court cannot proceed."

Magistrate calls for order

7.25pm De Marco asks the police inspector which part of the inquiry did the police base their actions on - simply the conclusive part? 

Tension is mounting in the court room. The prosecutors stand - and the magistrate tells them to stop.

As the bickering continues, the inspector is asked to go out because such arguments cannot be made in presence of a witness. The magistrate is calling for order. 

Inspector confirms charges based on inquiry

7.22pm Inspector Wayne Borg is asked to take the witness stand to explain.

He is asked what he based his charges on. His reply: "the inquiry".

Borg says that neither he nor any other officer involved in the investigation drew up a report.

There is no police report

7.15pm Refalo from the AG's office admits there is no police report on the Vitals case, which have led to the charges.

The defence lawyers pounce on that and in chorus they say: "please minute that".

Refalo explains that there was no police report because there was a magisterial inquiry.

De Marco steps in: "The law of procedure makes that report a mandatory requirement. It says 'charges and police report. Not either or'."

Debono adds: "if you choose to charge 16 persons, you must give an account for each. The inspector must explain. We're not talking about a ghost here."

'People being charged haphazardly'

7.02pm Debono intervenes: "people are being charged haphazardly and then when we ask the prosecution or the police to explain, they don’t.

"We’re down on our knees begging for an explanation," says Debono.

"They should be eager to come here and say why they are charging these individuals, what emerged in the investigations. But no, their reluctance is telling."

'They don’t know why these persons are charged today'

7pm But before the personal details, Filletti points out that the law says that first the court must have the police report. He cites another article of law. 

"So we need the police report besides the reading out of the charges," wraps up Filletti. 

The magistrate minutes that request and all the defence adheres to the same request. 

AG lawyer Refalo stands up to rebut: “Your honour, I don’t know if my learned colleagues wish to remain here till midnight.”

“As long as necessary,” the defence hits back. 

Refalo says that since there was a magisterial inquiry there’s no need for the police report. The investigation leading to these proceedings was the magisterial inquiry. 

Secondly, this request is untimely. Article 391 lays down that procedure but the prosecution will be following the wording of the law in due course. 

After the personal details of the accused, the evidence will be produced, says Refalo.

"The prosecution is telling us without actually saying so that they do not have a police report to exhibit," says Galea. 

Giannella de Marco adds: The law says “charges and the report” not “or”.

"Their reluctance is concerning. When they press charges under oath, they must know why they are doing so. It’s obvious they don’t know why these persons are charged today. Should we ask the AG to come here to explain? It’s as though none of them know what’s in the inquiry. Charges were based on the conclusions of the inquiring magistrate based on the conclusions of experts," says de Marco.

Magistrate sums up charges

6.40pm "Please stand", the magistrate tells the accused seated in the hall down below.

He explains their right to silence and the implications of their plea.

"Have you understood this warning?"

The replies are barely audible from the gallery. The magistrate sums up the charges briefly.

Each will now be asked for their personal details and how they will plead.

Case to proceed

6.35pm Magistrate is back. He says the Criminal Code explicitly lays out the procedure and states what the defendant may do. The process can be challenged if the court does not hear evidence. It does not automatically bring nullity but that may be challenged before the appropriate court. 

If the defence’s request to question prosecution at this stage is upheld, it would stultify the proceedings. So the request is turned down.

The case will therefore proceed.

Minister hits back

6.15pm As we wait for the magistrate to emerge, the tug-of-war between the two main parties persist. 

In a reply to an earlier post by the PN's Karol Aquilina, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said the PN spokesman and his friends believe it is only him, his relatives and his friends from the "establishment" who have a duty to comment. 

'There will be consequences'

6.05pm Lawyer Franco Galea says the prosecution is muddling things up. The law allows the defence to produce witnesses at any stage of the compilation.

If the prosecution is not prepared to face questions about the charges it filed on oath, then there will be consequences, he warns.

The magistrate suspends the session again to deliberate over his decision.

'Bad decisions taken'

6pm Lawyer Tonna Lowell says that so far, all that the prosecution has produced are the taxman and two police officers involved in the searches (in reference to Tuesday's sitting).

He says that once the court turned down their request for cross-examination, the defence has a right to produce its own evidence. And so it needs to put questions to the prosecution as examination-in-chief.

"That’s the extent we’ve come to. The prosecution is doing all it can not to expose itself to the consequences of the bad decisions taken. The AG's office issued the charges and we want him to justify them," Tonna Lowell says.

Cross-examination request rejected

5.50pm The magistrate has rejected the request to cross-examine the prosecutors, sparking protests from the defence lawyers. 

Tonna Lowell, formerly an AG lawyer, says that the law itself grants the defence right to cross-examine.

"And whatever the court decides, with all due respect, unless we know what this inquiry consists of, we’re arguing that this whole compilation will be null."

More tension in court

5.40pm Refalo from the AG's office says that cross-examination follows testimony-in-chief and not on the charges read out. The prosecuting officers represent an office and they read out the charges on oath.

This same issue arose before Magistrate Montebello who decreed along the prosecution's line of argument.

Magistrate Caruana warns that unless the defence proceeds in an orderly manner, the court will allocate a few minutes to each defence legal team “as is done in other foreign courts after all.”

Filletti says our criminal code does not exclude cross-examination at this stage.

Accused wants to cross-examine prosecution officials

5.25pm Laywer Filletti, on behalf of Chappell, Ronald Mizzi, Alfred Camilleri and Joseph Rapa asks the court to allow defence to cross-examine the prosecution officials who read out the charges and confirmed the veracity collectively, namely Francesco Refalo and Shelby Aquilina and AG lawyer Rebekah Spiteri, superintendent Hubert Cini and inspector Wayne Rodney Borg. 

The defence reminds them that they drew up those charges based on evidence they had in hand. Now they must explain what evidence there was to charge the accused with fraud, how they reached the conclusion of the crimes in respect of Chappell and how they reached moral certainty that a €40 million freezing order was to be issued against her because those were the illicit gains made. 

Since they confirmed those charges on oath, they were to face cross-examination. 

The charges are out

5.20pm All officials are charged with fraud, fraudulent gains to the detriment of government. 

Fearne, Scicluna, Mizzi, Rapa, Camilleri and Chappell are charged with misappropriation.

Chappell, Kevin and Kenneth Deguara , Farrugia and DF Advocates are charged with money laundering.

Chappell, Mifsud Bonnici, Castagna, Kevin Deguara and Farrugia are charged with actively participating in an organisation set up for criminal activity.

Chappell, Kenneth Deguara are also charged with document fraud and falsification of records for VAT purposes. 

The three permanent secretaries are charged with allegedly committing crimes they were duty bound to prevent.

The prosecution asked the court to order restitution of all misappropriated funds upon conviction. 

The requested freezing orders:

Chappell €40 million, Kevin Deguara: €20 million; Kenneth Deguara: €14 million; Farrugia €20 million; DF Advocates €20 million.

In case of conviction, the accused can forfeit their professional warrants.

All prosecuting officers confirm the charges on oath.

The hospitals saga has dominated the news agenda for years. Photo: Matthrew MirabelliThe hospitals saga has dominated the news agenda for years. Photo: Matthrew Mirabelli

A 'shameless minister' - PN

5pm In the meantime, the Nationalist Party has condemned the Justice Minister’s "attack" on the prosecutor and called out his behaviour as “unacceptable in a democracy”.

In a statement, PN justice spokesperson Karol Aquilina said Attard “turned his guns” on the magistrate and prosecutor for their decisions. 

“This is the first time in our country’s history that we have a Justice Minister who publicly and without any shame, is without any restrain going against the prosecutor and the magistrate who are serving the State in the biggest case of corruption this country has ever seen,” he said.

He said it is a clear example of Attard not sharing the interest of the State and its institutions but is making himself complicit with Muscat in this “orchestrated attack” against the judiciary and those working for justice in the country.

Meanwhile, Adrian Delia has urged Edward Scicluna to go, saying he was inflicting huge reputational damage on the country be persisting in staying on as Central Bank governor.


Six hours later...

4.55pm The constitutional reference has been turned down because at this stage the criminal proceedings had not yet got underway. 

Which means that after almost six hours of legal debates and deliberations, the magistrate asks the prosecution to proceed with reading the charges.

So what's happening?

4.50pm The defence asked for all material evidence before the charges are read out.

The magistrate turned down that request because the court was not in a position to determine whether the prosecution had given defence all evidence as ordered. And the court couldn’t do so because the inquiry was no longer in the prosecution’s possession.

Kenneth Deguara’s lawyers immediately asked for a constitutional reference arguing that such lack of evidence breached the accused’s right to a fair hearing. 

Moreover, if the case went ahead and the prosecution sought a €14 million freezing order, the accused’s fundamental property rights would also be breached. 

How can the defence challenge that freezing order without having all evidence in hand? 

The prosecution are saying that this request for a constitutional reference is “totally frivolous and vexatious.”

It’s for the court to decide now whether this request is frivolous and vexatious.

"Is this the state of justice in Malta, an EU member state?", says Franco Debono.

Defence request denied

4.25pm We are back in session. The magistrate takes his place.

The magistrate says that at this stage the court denies the defence’s request and orders that the charges are to be read out.

Franco Debono, on behalf of Kenneth Deguara, immediately informs the court that he was requesting a constitutional reference after having read the full contents of the decree just delivered.

What does that mean? Well it's complicated. Constitutional references, if granted, will suspend the case until the constitutional issue is actually decided. But it will be the court that will decide whether to go ahead with that. 

The magistrate has briefly suspended the hearing to give the defence time to discuss. Some of the country's best criminal law brains are now mulling their options.

Is it a gagging order?

3.30pm While we're waiting for the magistrate to emerge, there appears to be a lot of confusion on the interpretation of the court's decision on Tuesday to restrict public statements made by the accused in connection with the hospitals case. 

Was it a case of a gagging order? Muscat says it is. The justice minister says it is disproportionate. Others say the order is being misinterpreted. We hope to be able to clarify the issue soon. 

Muscat has just issued a video statement about the matter.

Magistrate to deliberate

2.40pm Meanwhile, back in court, the magistrate has retired to deliberate whether the court needs to have all material evidence in hand before the charges are read out.

The sitting resumes at 3.30pm.

Just for the record, we've already been more than three hours into this sitting and we've only seen a ping-pong of procedural issues that have stalled the court from even hearing the charges. 

Justice Minister slams 'disproportionate' order against Muscat

2.32pm We've had a Prime Minister directly attack a magistrate. Now we've got a Justice Minister turn on a prosecutor. 

Jonathan Attard has slammed a "disproportionate" order that prohibits Joseph Muscat from speaking about the case against him. 

In a comment on ONE, the minister said that if prosecutors want this "gagging order", they should be just as zealous when it comes to investigating leaks related to the case. 

Interestingly, Attard singled out the prosecutor who requested the gagging order - and did not make any reference to the court, which upheld the request (and could have turned it down).

Justice Minister Jonathan AttardJustice Minister Jonathan Attard

Avoiding a 'repeat'

2.30pm Debono continues: The prosecution “surprised" the defence teams yesterday when it was asked to support the request for freezing order.

"If the charges are read out today before we get that evidence, the right to fair hearing and to peaceful enjoyment of personal property, will be breached. The situation is urgent and grave," says Debono.

Magistrate: "So basically you’re saying that unless you have all that evidence you cannot contest the freezing order."

"Precisely," says Debono. "Yesterday the prosecution came here firing a request for millions worth freezing orders and that’s it. Today we are guarding ourselves against a repeat".

Have I got news for you?

2.20pm While Malta’s top media outlets are live-streaming the historic court sittings, the proceedings were conspicuously absent from One.

A social media post by Sandro Mangion, editor of the Labour Party's The Journal and former editor of One, is making the rounds.

He recalled how on Monday evening, while the court case was still ongoing, he could hear how most of his neighbours were following the court saga on the PN’s television station, Net TV.

He said he cannot understand how during this moment of upheaval in our country, it is the opposition party's TV station that is giving the people what they are looking for.

"This should be the duty of the national broadcaster, which is paid from our taxes,” he said. And for the Labour Party station? Mangion said it was a “missed opportunity” to provide people with a different perspective.

Suspect's rights breached

2.15pm Lawyer Debono tells the court that the suspect's rights are being breached when he is not sent for by the police.

"It’s not on to argue that they don’t have a duty to do so. Yes, they do under the umbrella of disclosure. Secondly, in case of money laundering, there’s shifting of the burden of evidence. How can that be if the person is not sent for? The suspect might have some explanation to proffer and waive the suspicion. And thus avoiding being charged in court."

It could be a long day

2pm The magistrate earlier cautioned that, at this pace, today's case could extend until 2 AM.

Defence lawyers are systematically challenging the charges against their clients and raising procedural issues, such as disclosure, with no end in sight.

'Incited by the prime minister'

Meanwhile, outside court, Robert Aquilina from Repubblika accused prime minister Robert Abela of undermining journalists.

"He depicts you (journalists), just like magistrates - enemies of the people," he said.

Aquilina said those accused yesterday, including Joseph Muscat, should have been taken in under arrest and not ordered to court via summons. Instead, the former prime minister had a chance to have a rally of support outside court. 

He accused police commissioner Angelo Gafa and Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg of choosing this path.

"Journalists should not have to confront a crowd incited by the prime minister."

Robert Aquilina speaking outside court.

No indication he was a suspect

1.35pm Lawyer Sciriha says his client James Camenzuli was only summoned by the police for three minutes. He was in and out and was given no rights. 

Lawyer Ezekiel Psaila said his client Castagna was summoned by the inquiring magistrate - he went with his lawyer at the time but the lawyer was not allowed to accompany him inside.

He was given no indication he was a suspect, no right to silence and was then slapped with a notification of the charges.

Refalo from the AG's office says that at no stage did the prosecution breach any of the accused’s rights. 

'Fool me once'

1.30pm Franco Debono takes centre stage again. Says the court order must be obeyed before the charges are read out, pointing out that some of the accused are facing a freezing order running into millions.

The law on freezing orders was recently amended and criminal lawyers welcomed that.

But today we’re still in a state where we have to rebut the prosecution’s request for a freezing order without having all the evidence.

"Yesterday we asked the prosecutor to substantiate his request for the freezing order and all he said was 'it’s in those boxes' (of evidence).

“Fool me once…. today I’m going to guard against that,” says Debono.

Further down in this blog you will find the amounts of freezing orders the accused are facing. 

'Remove Scicluna' - PN leader

1.15pm Meanwhile, Bernard Grech says the Prime Minister must remove Edward Scicluna from his role as Central Bank governor to ensure the integrity of the Central Bank and the country’s economy.

“You deserve institutions with clean leadership... We have a governor of the Central Bank who is accused of being part of the biggest fraud our country has ever seen," the PN leader says in a Facebook post.

Never told they're suspects

1.10pm Alfred Camilleri and Deborah Anne Chappell were never spoken to.

"No one sent for Camilleri to clarify any doubt that may have existed and he was faced with fraud charge without being given a hearing. As for Chappell, she was spoken to as a suspect with no right to silence or disclosure. She was charged with hiding facts when, as a lawyer, she was bound by professional secrecy.

Had she been told she was suspect, she would have been freed of that professional secrecy.

Other defence lawyers are making the same arguments. 

'Inexplicably charged'

1.05pm Lawyer Filletti adds the accused who were spoken to - like Ronald Mizzi and Joseph Rapa - were not given the right to a lawyer, the right to silence, and full disclosure.

This means they were allowed to speak at a stage when they were deemed as 'persons of interest' so much so that today they are inexplicably charged. Had they been given those rights, had they been told about the suspicion in their regard they would have waived such suspicion.

Also, the inquiry did not attribute any wrong behaviour towards them. They were given no chance to waive any misinterpretation. All that breached their rights, Filletti argues.

Rights of accused were breached

1pm The case resumes. Franco Debono says his clients were not spoken to before these proceedings. As for former permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri he didn’t even know that he was being investigated.

"This is an anomalous and exceptional situation. It’s an administrative decision whether to charge persons in courts. We learn from seasoned lawyers that the prosecution is the accused’s best friend. There’s an article of law that the prosecution must bring all evidence both for and against the accused. No one sent for the accused to take their version. In my years of practice, never had I a case when police did not send for a person before charging."

He insists that all this must be brought to the court’s attention before the charges are read out. The accused’s rights were breached.

Police cover

12.50pm Once again, the police are offering cover for the journalists covering one of the most important legal cases in our history.

Here's a picture we just snapped outside as journalists get comments from Robert Aquilina and Jason Azzopardi. In reality, it shouldn't be this way. Journalists are merely doing their job. 

The police circling the media.The police circling the media.

Charge sheet may be substituted

12.20pm The court says that after hearing the arguments by both sides, it deems that article 175 of the COCP is applicable. The law allows the substitution of some court acts.

What the prosecution asked for does not mean that new proceedings are being filed but only the charge sheet is being substituted. Therefore the court upheld the prosecution’s request and orders substitution.

The defence requests some time to compare the new charge sheet with the one they had before. The prosecution does not object. The court grants them 20 minutes for this purpose.

No 'cryptic' insertion

12.12pm Meanwhile, former EU Commissioner John Dalli has taken exception to the fact his picture was included in yesterday’s live blog, showing him leaving (not entering) the court. 

“I conclude that your cryptic insertion was made to give the impression that I was in any way involved in these proceedings.  This is fake, a continuation of the denigration you have been directing at me,” Dalli claimed. 

Dalli said he was in court because he was summoned for the umpteenth time in the case which “Angelo Gafa decided to start against him” – dating back to his European Commission scandal. 

At no point in yesterday’s live blog did we say - or even insinuate - that Dalli was involved in the hospitals court case. The inclusion of the picture runs in parallel to the very nature of a running commentary!

John Dalli outside court on Tuesday.John Dalli outside court on Tuesday.

'We could be here till 2am'

12pm The magistrate has had enough of the procedural bickering - the charges haven’t even been read out yet.

Refalo from the AG's office cites the law article 175 of Code of Organization and civil procedure which says that the court may substitute or change an act as long as that change does not alter the merits of the case.

So today’s charges do not need to go through the registry, he insists.

Magistrate says that if they keep going on this point “we’ll be here till 2am!”

Lawyer Franco Galea warns the prosecution: "it’s up to you what to decide. Your decision will have consequences. This is a matter of public order and if procedure is not followed properly, there will be consequences. Even in ordinary run-of-the-mill arraignments, charges are registered before the hearing."

'The AG was hasty'

11.55am Lawyer Filletti (counsel to Chappell) points out that the AG is requesting a freezing order for €40 million in his client's regard.

"The charge sheet is the alpha and omega of these proceedings… we’re worried that this document is presented here at the sitting, rather than filed in the registry and the accused notified two days beforehand in terms of law.”

Filletti adds: "We were only notified of the charges, the new one given to us now and the inquiry report. The AG was hasty. I’m highlighting the sensitivity of this document."

The magistrate says the legal debates are sensible and interesting but if no  requests are made, the proceedings will move forward. 

Jason wants to have coffee

11.45am Reporters also swarmed around Labour stalwart Jason Micallef as he exited court and headed towards St George’s Square.

He was asked why he did not also rally supporters behind Chris Fearne and Edward Scicluna on Wednesday, like he did for Muscat on Tuesday. 

He did not answer. The former PL general secretary, accompanied by MEP candidate Daniel Attard, only said he wanted to go have coffee and asked the reporter whether she cared to sit down for a coffee with him, before walking into a coffee shop.

Jason Micallef walking down Republic Street.

'I was the one to ask the AG to investigate' - Fearne 

We finally have the audio of Chris Fearne's comments to reporters before he walked in to court. 

The former minister said he is determined to continue defending his integrity and that he took all decisions in the interest of the people and the country, including the decision to resign.

"I will defend my name in court, and not on the street," he said.

“I understand that I need to answer for my actions like every other citizen,” he told reporters. 

He also said he was the one who asked the auditor general to investigate the concession in 2016 - a probe which he said completely exonerated him from all guilt. 

We have a separate story about his comments.

Chris Fearne speaking to reporters outside court. Photo: Chris Sant FournierChris Fearne speaking to reporters outside court. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Evarist's warning

11.35am Meanwhile, while lawyers engage in a procedure war inside the court rooms, former Labour minister Evarist Bartolo has published a Facebook post. He warns the PL leadership that people from within the party - who were only interested in personal gain - were "Labour's worst enemies".

Read the story here. 

That Times of Malta article

11.28am Filletti says they feel worried and irritated by an article on Times of Malta about charges to be dropped against one of the companies.

"If the newspaper had it five days ago, why are we told about it now? It worries me. The whole of Malta saw that story, me too," says Filletti.

Tense atmosphere - and we've barely started

11.23am When the inspectors go to retrieve the sheets, there’s reluctance from the defence’s bench. The inspectors insist it’s a court order - the court marshall steps in to calm down the situation.

"Are you going to start," the magistrate intervenes. 

We haven’t even got to the reading of charge sheet and the situation is already tensing up.

Magistrate tells Debono not to raise his voice as the lawyer says it is unacceptable for the prosecution to come with new charges, even out of respect for the court.

Defence lawyer Michael Sciriha says that never in 40 years of practice did police officers go to take charge sheets away from the defence. 

Can they take the AG's word?

11.20am Concern Refalo rebuts no charges were being added in respect of Debono's client, but was removing one of the accused from the list. The company originally facing accusations did not feature anywhere in the inquiry.

And as for the inquiry, the records cannot be presented again today. In fact, the 78 boxes of evidence are nowhere in the hall.

Lawyer Filletti chips into the debate and says he is worried.

"There’s a new charge sheet and we have to rely on the AG’s word that none of the other charges have changed."

Lawyer Franco DebonoLawyer Franco Debono

'We're not telepathic'

11.15am Franco Debono says that everyone may make a mistake but the court is now faced with a new charge sheet.

"It's not on that we come here with 78 boxes of evidence and ask for freezing orders expecting the defence to know what’s in them telepathically. That’s the consequence of haste. The AG did not act stubbornly and withdrew the charge. Let’s understand that haste breeds mistakes.

The magistrate immediately points out that he has not even finished taking the attendance.

But Debono says that the accused should have been notified anew with the new charge sheet.

"It’s not on that AG dictate proceedings. I reserve the right to demand fresh notification of the charges," he says.

New charge sheet

11.11am Francesco Refalo from the AG's office say they are filing a new charge sheet because charges were withdrawn in respect of DF Corporate Advisory. The rest of the charges remain unchanged.

Here's the story we wrote about DF Corporate Advisory - in a nutshell the company had not even been set up when it was alleged to have committed crimes.

Who's representing who?

11.10am Fearne and Scicluna are assisted by lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell.

Ronald Mizzi is assisted by lawyer Stefan Fillletti.

Kenneth Deguara is assisted by lawyer Franco Debono.

Chappell is assisted by Filletti, Roberto Montalto, Meli and Mizzi.

Mifsud Bonnici is assisted by Giannella de Marco and Charles Mercieca

Back in hall 22

11am Our court reporter Edwina Brincat will be reporting from hall 22. Several defence lawyers are gathering to make their case in front of magistrate Leonard Caruana.

Given the size of the case, the magistrate immediately sets some ground rules. Each accused has a legal team. So one lawyer is to speak at a time for each team. There will be no shouting or speaking over each other - and videos, photos, comments from the public are barred.

Fearne applauded, reporters heckled

10.55am A small crowd has gathered outside the court and the atmosphere was tense as reporters swarmed around Fearne as he approached the court house from St George’s Square.

A few supporters surrounded him, applauding him and thanking him for his service to the country. A couple of them heckled reporters who tried to ask questions.

Failed to challenge the deal

10.30am Fearne resigned as deputy prime minister and minister on May 10, days after prosecutors filed fraud charges against him related to hospitals scandal.

He said that despite facing "injustice" he had a duty to "put the people first", as he also withdrew his nomination as Malta's nominee to the next EU Commission. 

Scicluna and Fearne are not seen to have played a role in the scandal, and the two were sidelined, but investigators believe they failed to flag and challenge the deal.

Outside the court... it's quiet

10.20am Compared to Tuesday there's a sparse crowd to welcome the accused - at least so far. Our reporter Daniel Ellul says while the media is in full force on the steps of the courthouse, together with a large police presence, there are few Labour supporters gathered in the square.

Labour firebrand Manuel Cuschieri who engineered the show of support for Joseph Muscat, is, however, outside the lawcourts. 

Manuel Cuschieri outside court. Photo: Chris Sant FournierManuel Cuschieri outside court. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Scicluna speaks for the first time

10.16am Edward Scicluna, the former finance minister and Central Bank governor made an early entrance to the court. 

It's the first time he has spoken about the case.

He insists that the role of a governor is completely different to that of a minister. He insists his role is governed by strict EU statutes and not by that of a national government. 

Here's a separate story.

Edward Scicluna speaks to reporters on way in.

'AG was with us in meetings'

10.11am Only last Monday, the three top civil servants that the Attorney General is prosecuting over the hospitals deal insisted she was with them in talks over the concession, and therefore has a conflict of interest.

In a judicial protest filed in court on Monday afternoon through their lawyers, Alfred Camilleri, Joe Rapa and Ronald Mizzi said they want AG Victoria Buttigieg to reconsider her decision to charge them over the hospitals scandal.

Renald Mizzi, Joe Rapa and Alfred Camilleri.Renald Mizzi, Joe Rapa and Alfred Camilleri.

What are the charges?

10.10am All are charged with fraud, fraudulent gains to the detriment of the government 

Fearne, Scicluna, Mizzi, Rapa, Camilleri and Chappell are charged with misappropriation 

Chappell, the Deguara brothers, Farrugia and the companies are charged with money laundering.

Chappell, Mifsud Bonnici, Castagna, Kevin Deguara, Farrugia are charged with actively participating in an organization set up for criminal activity. 

Chappell, Deguara Kenneth also charged with document fraud and falsification of records for VAT purposes. 

The three permanent secretaries are charged with allegedly committing crimes they were duty bound to prevent.

Who is facing the charges?

  • Christopher Fearne (former minister)
  • Edward Scicluna (former minister and Central Bank governor)
  • Ronald Mizzi (permanent secretary)
  • Alfred Camilleri (former permanent secretary)
  • Joseph Rapa (former permanent secretary0
  • Kenneth Deguara (CFO DF Advocates)
  • Kevin Deguara (lawyer and founding partner of DF Advocates)
  • Jean Carl Farrugia (lawyer and founding partner of DF Advocates)
  • Deborah Anne Chappell (in-house legal counsel at DF)
  • Bradley Gatt (corporate lawyer)
  • Aron Mifsud Bonnici (lawyer)
  • James Camenzuli (Vitals evaluation committee chair)
  • Manuel Castagna (evaluation committee member)
  • Robert Borg (evaluation committee member) DF Advocates
  • DF Corporate Advisory Ltd

The requested freezing orders

10.05am Chappell: €40 million; Kevin Deguara: €20 million; Kenneth Deguara: €14 million; Jean Karl Farrugia €20 million; Companies €20m each 

Chappell, the in-house lawyer, faces the highest charges and the highest freezing order of the scandal, even greater than Tuesday's maximum €32 m against David Joseph Meli.

Tuesday's drama

10am: Welcome to another live blog after yesterday's unprecedented court case where former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his associates Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi faced criminal charges. 

You may wish to follow the minute-by-minute blow of what happened yesterday by clicking on this link - or if you want a wrap-up of the day's events, click here


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