Mr Justice Ray Pace was yesterday remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to accepting a bribe, trading in influence and money laundering.
In separate arraignments, two other men – Sandro Psaila, 40, from Valletta and Raymond Caruana, 51, from Żebbuġ – pleaded not guilty to trying to bribe the judge to influence the outcome of a sentence in which drug trafficker Darren Desira was jailed for 18 years and fined €46,000.
Mr Justice Pace, a 14-year veteran of the Bench who also serves as Acting Chief Justice, was not the judge who jailed Mr Desira. But sources close to the case said it is alleged that he agreed to try to get Mr Desira’s jail time increased.
No other judges have been implicated in the case, which is said to revolve around rival gangs. The prosecution’s case will make use of audio recordings obtained by the police through telephone tapping.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi last night said Mr Justice Pace must resign or face impeachment, a call backed by Labour leader Joseph Muscat. Dr Gonzi fired the same warning to Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco, the President of the Maltese Olympic Committee who has been targeted in an Olympics ticketing probe.
Earlier, in a surreal sitting, Mr Justice Pace sat in the dock staring at the floor and looking a shadow of his usual jovial self. Outside the courtroom he broke down in tears and was comforted by his wife.
Mr Justice Pace was defended by lawyer Stefano Filletti, who in submissions on bail said his client should be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the judge was prepared to “fight these charges”.
Bail was the rule, not the exception, he said. His client had no criminal record and up to yesterday he was respected as a man who meted out justice, so what had made him lose this credibility? He also said an audio recording on which the police had implicated the judge could be taken out of context.
Police superintendents Norbert Ciappara and Paul Vassallo said that, given the seriousness of the charges, bail should be denied.
Magistrate Audrey Demicoli remanded Mr Justice Pace in custody because of the possibility of tampering of evidence.
Dr Filletti asked for him to be kept at the forensic unit in Mount Carmel hospital due to medical problems.
Mr Psaila and Mr Caruana, represented by Edward Gatt and Veronique Dalli, were also denied bail and remanded in custody.
Mr Justice Pace is not the first judge to be arraigned in Maltese legal history. Former Chief Justice Noel Arrigo and former judge Patrick Vella were jailed for accepting money in 2002 to reduce the jail term of career criminal Mario Camilleri.
Dr Arrigo had served his two-year, nine-month sentence at Mount Carmel’s forensic unit.