NGO Repubblika filed an appeal on Tuesday, contesting a constitutional court decision that the NGO could not claim that its fundamental rights would suffer if challenge proceedings filed by the group were to continue to be heard by Magistrate Nadine Lia.

The appeal is the latest development in an ongoing court saga revolving around Repubblika’s attempts to challenge the Police Commissioner to prosecute former top officials at Pilatus Bank, following directions by a magistrate who investigated suspected financial crimes at the now-shuttered bank.

The challenging hearings had been assigned to Magistrate Lia who, in view of her familial tries to lawyer Pawlu Lia, was deemed by Repubblika as having a conflict of interest. He was the lawyer of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief-of-staff Keith Schembri and had set out the terms of reference for the Egrant inquiry where Pilatus Bank featured prominently. 

In a press conference in front of the courthouse on Tuesday, Repubblika President Robert Aquilina also launched a crowdfunding campaign, saying that while lawyer Jason Azzopardi was providing legal services free of charge, court expenses were increasing.

“We are determined to use whatever legal means we have to use locally and abroad,” Aquilina told reporters on Tuesday.

“If the Maltese courts do not acknowledge our rights we are prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human rights.”

Repubblika first attempted to get Magistrate Lia to recuse herself in June last year.

After Lia refused, the NGO filed a constitutional lawsuit claiming that its fundamental right to a fair hearing would be breached if Magistrate Lia were to continue to hear the case. 

Another court had upheld Repubblika’s request, suspending the challenge proceedings and ordering their reassignment to a different magistrate. But the state advocate sucessfully appealed that decision.

Magistrate Nadine Lia.Magistrate Nadine Lia.

The matter finally landed before the constitutional court. In its deicison earlier this month, the court observed that in light of its founding statute, Repubblika was not set up in the private interest of any of its members, but in the public interest in general.

Therefore, it followed that the challenge proceedings had been filed in the public interest. Whatever the outcome of that challenge, it would not impinge upon the private, personal or economic interest of any of the group’s members.

“We believe this decision goes against all logic and it goes against our fundamental human rights. We have confidence in the courts generally and in the judge who decided the case, ” Aquilina said on Tuesday.

“Our rights cannot be trampled on in this way.”

He said Pilatus Bank was intentionally set up as a money laundering machine for criminals and dirty politicians and was allowed to operate abusively in Malta by Joseph Muscat’s government.

Evidence shows that inquiring magistrate Ian Farrugia flagged many wrongdoings, Aquilina said, and the inquiry recommended that the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General charge several high ranking officials, including former bank CEO Ali Sadr, but he had refused to do so, so far.

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