The Nationalist Party has called for the immediate resignation of Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco, saying his position as a judge has become untenable, and said it would support a motion to impeach him.
“Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco should tender his resignation immediately. The honourable thing to do is to leave, but if he doesn’t then the Government and Parliament should act,” the PN’s spokesman told The Times yesterday.
“Judges should behave impecc-ably and do nothing to tarnish the reputation of the judiciary. Their first priority should always be respect to their office,” the spokesman added.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco was one of two senior officials of the Maltese Olympic Committee rapped by the International Olympic Committee’s Ethics Commission on Thursday after a probe on ticket selling.
The investigation was launched after a probe by undercover reporters of The Sunday Times of London, who secretly filmed Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and MOC general secretary Joe Cassar while posing as agents seeking to buy tickets allocated to Malta for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The IOC said: “By agreeing to take part in a discussion concerning the ATR (authorised ticket reseller) contract for the Games in Sochi, when it was apparent that his interlocutors seemed to be looking for ways to circumvent the official mechanism, Mr Farrugia (Sacco) allowed the journalists to prove their point,” the Ethics Commission said after taking cognisance of all the evidence, including Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco’s observations.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco has denied any wrongdoing.
With regard to Mr Cassar, the IOC commission said that by explaining “which means could be used to get around the mechan-ism”, he helped to prove the journalists’ point that the sports world and those who work for it “are prepared to violate the rules”.
“As a result, Mr Cassar helped the reputation of the Olympic movement to be tarnished,” it said.
Justice Minister Chris Said told The Times he would “not hesit-ate” to move an impeachment motion on Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco if the Commission for the Administration of Justice found grounds for doing so.
“The impeachment of a judge is a very serious matter and the decision about that has to be taken after a proper consideration of all the facts as they relate to the person’s holding of judicial office,” the minister said.
Dr Said recalled that he had brought the case to the “immediate and urgent” attention of the commission back in June.
Dr Said had written to the commission asking it to investigate the matter when The Sunday Times of London named Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco in an undercover investigation into the sale of Olympic tickets.
“Justice Ministers do not have an investigative role. It is the Commission for the Administration of Justice that has jurisdiction over the workings of the courts and the behaviour of members of the judiciary,” he said.
Up till now, he added, he had not received any communication from the commission, except confirmation that it was investig-ating the case.
Dr Said also pointed out that Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco’s attention had already been drawn by the commission back in 2007 when it ruled that by holding office as MOC president he was in breach of the judiciary’s code of ethics (see box).
Malta was not among the countries investigated for reselling tickets on the black market.
The IOC Ethics Commission’s report singles out six officials in four countries: Malta, Greece, Lithuania and Serbia.
Pointing out that national Olympic committee officials did not “appear to have had the intention of making personal use of the sums in question”, the IOC Ethics Commission said the acts alleged by The Sunday Times of London with regard to the officials were “fully or partially proved”.
It insisted that everyone performing a leadership role “must behave impeccably and do nothing to tarnish the reputation of the Olympic movement”.
“If this is not the case, the individuals concerned must draw the necessary consequences therefrom,” it added, saying that the Olympic Charter did not provide for sanctioning of national committee officials.
“That is up to the NOCs or the individuals concerned to take the necessary steps based on each individual situation where the reput-ation of the Olympic Movement has been tarnished.”
The Ethics Commission also called for a review of the entire ticket sales system to ensure such situations did not recur.
The Times is informed that Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco is likely to challenge the IOC’s decision.
His lawyer and son David Farrugia Sacco, a Labour candidate, yesterday said the legal team would be evaluating the matter over the weekend.
“We will be studying the decision and decide what course of action to take. On Monday we will be in a better position to say what legal action we can take to challenge the IOC decision,” he said.
The judge could challenge the ruling on “a point of merit”, Dr Farrugia Sacco added, “but it all depends on what my father ultimately decides.”
Asked whether Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco was considering resigning his post on the Maltese Olympic Committee, Dr Farrugia Sacco said he had not discussed this with his father.
The MOC has not yet issued a statement on the IOC findings that rapped Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco and Mr Cassar.
A statement issued on Thursday by the Maltese Olympic Committee on behalf of the president said that the secretly-filmed footage by The Sunday Times was “doctored”.
Sources said an MOC council meeting for member associations was scheduled for Wednesday but the MOC executive could meet earlier to discuss the IOC decision.
It is unclear what action the MOC will take but sources said the executive was expecting to officially receive a report of the findings from the IOC and guidance on how to move ahead.
The IOC has threatened to withdraw accreditation for Olympic events if the national organisations fail to take action.
But a former MOC executive member said it was unlikely the Malta team would be banned from Olympic events.
The IOC’s Ethics Commission did not call for the resignation of the officials, saying it did not have authority to impose sanctions but called on them to “take the necessary measures”.
A Labour Party spokesman said: “The rule of thumb is that politics should not get involved in the decisions that should be taken by independent sport organisations.
“We understand that this issue will be brought before the Commission for the Administration of Justice, where the person involved will have the opportunity to present his version of facts.”
At loggerheads with ethics
Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco’s role as president of the Maltese Olympic Committee was found to breach the judiciary’s code of ethics five years ago.
The Commission for the Administration of Justice, a Constitutional body, found that, as long as he kept his post on the committee, Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco was in breach of the code of ethics.
The same reprimand was issued to Magistrate Antonio Mizzi, who at the time was president of the Malta Basketball Association.
In what was a very rare instance, the commission published the letters it had sent the two members of the judiciary.
The code of ethics, a non-binding set of principles, states that members of the judiciary “cannot hold any position, even if temporary, voluntary or honorary, and neither can they carry out any activity which, in the view of the commission ... may compromise their position, duties or functions”.
In 2007 Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco did not comment on the commission’s letter but a year later, when he was confirmed as MOC president for another term, he defended his actions by quoting a court judgment delivered by then Chief Justice Vincent De Gaetano.
The judgment said that if a judge felt that his conscience was clear, he did not need to feel uncomfortable or threatened about his independence.
“It is he and no-one else that decides – if there is anything to decide – on what he should do if the Commission for the Administration of Justice draws his attention to something which in the commission’s opinion may not be conducive to an efficient and proper functioning of the court, or which could affect the trust conferred by his appointment, or to any failure on his part to abide by a code of ethics.”
The code of ethics also said that a judge could not occupy any position on an association that received funds from the Government.
Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco insisted that the code of ethics, which was introduced after his appointment, did not apply to him.
He also defended his position by saying that there were various officials in foreign Olympic committees who were sitting judges.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us