Justice Minister Jonathan Attard insisted on Monday that it was "ridiculous" and "without basis" for anyone to suggest ulterior motives behind a government decision to rush new legislation that will see freezing orders imposed by the courts limited to the amount suspected to have been defrauded. 

"It is an accusation which is completely without basis. It is a ridiculous accusation," Attard said, when asked about claims the law was being fast-tracked to protect people who would soon be in court. 

The Nationalist Party on Monday morning said the government was fast-tracking the legislation "for obvious and known reasons". 

It also argued that just like those accused of drug trafficking, people accused of corruption should be excluded from the new rules. 

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Replying to questions while on his way to parliament to pilot the bill, the minister said the new law aims to balance the assets frozen by the courts with the crime which the accused would be suspected of committing.

He insisted that the legislation was not aimed at anyone and had been given priority after the courts pointed out several times that the current law threatened fundamental rights. 

As it stands, people accused of a financial crime may have most of their property and assets frozen by the courts. 

"This is a situation where fundamental human rights are being broken, there have been several (court) judgments urging us to look at these laws, and that is what we are doing," the minister said.  

He also pointed out that calls for legislative change had also been made by other quarters, including a Times of Malta editorial.

The new law would strike a fair balance for everyone as "fundamental rights make no distinction," he said. Drug cases were excluded from the law because of another law specific to drug cases.

"Let's not forget that the maximum penalty for drug trafficking is life imprisonment," Attard said. 

All financial crimes, including corruption, will retain the same penalties. What is changing is that while people are presumed innocent, there is more proportionality in the assets freeze that the courts may impose,' he said.

Attard said that those opposing the law are only doing so because they "are being populist and object to everything the government proposes".

Asked if fast-tracking the law had anything to do with former prime minister Joseph Muscat, Attard said: "Joseph Muscat, as far as I know, has not been accused in our courts, so I cannot understand how one can conclude that a law is being enacted to help an individual over another".  

Speculation has been mounting that Muscat could face court in connection with the fraudulent hospitals deal. 

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