Just over 15 months ago, Magistrate Aaron Bugeja was appointed to carry out an inquiry. The objective of the magistrate’s inquiry was straight-forward: to establish whether or not the Prime Minister’s wife was the owner of a €1 million secret off-shore account, the so-called Egrant account, as alleged by Daphne Caruana Galizia in her blog.
Let me preface what I am about to write next with a clear qualification. As I have repeatedly said, I fully understand the heartbreak and pain which the Caruana Galizia family has endured since the brutal murder of their beloved wife and mother. All right-thinking people in Malta are appalled by the tragedy.
But in dealing with the outcome of a magisterial inquiry affecting the credibility and motive of what Caruana Galizia wrote 18 months ago – one having huge national and international repercussions – it is inevitable that what the family states openly in the media about it is important, relevant and of public interest.
And if what the family says attempts to cast doubt on the validity of Bugeja’s principal conclusions – in effect challenging the very basis of the rule of law in Malta, about which so much was made in the wake of her publication of the Egrant story – then it is a matter of public interest which must be examined.
I therefore mean no disrespect to the Caruana Galizia family if I take issue with their reaction to Bugeja’s findings. In the immediate aftermath of the publication of the report, a two-page statement by the family sought to cast doubt on the validity of the magistrate’s conclusions, based on their assertion that “we cannot accept that we will never know for whom Egrant was set up… a dangerous notion that cannot coexist with democracy”.
They went on to imply that since the conclusions of the magisterial report only consisted of 48 pages “of what is reportedly a 1,500 page report… 1,450 pages have been kept hidden,” this undermined the validity of the magisterial inquiry.
These two points were immediately seized upon by those who were seeking any lifeline to put aside the magistrate’s devastating charge sheet of fraud, forgery, perjury, defamation, libel, bearing false witness, false evidence, outright lies, character assassination and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The first assertion about “never knowing for whom Egrant was set up” is a red herring, a self-serving attempt to distract attention from the damning findings of the inquiry. The inquiry was not about identifying any other owner of the Egrant account – if there ever had been such a person. It was not about knowing for whom Egrant was set up.
None of these issues, other than Egrant’s alleged ownership by the Prime Minister’s family, was the subject of the magisterial inquiry. Anything else is utterly irrelevant to the task Bugeja was asked to fulfil: did Mrs Muscat own a €1 million secret offshore account?
The Egrant fable that underpinned the conspiracy theory has left a trail of disaster in its wake
The principal conclusions of Bugeja’s comprehensive investigation showed beyond a shadow of doubt that Caruana Galizia’s accusation was unfounded. There was no evidence linking the Prime Minister or his wife to Egrant. There were no grounds to substantiate the accusation. The magistrate’s findings were a clear indictment of those who concocted the story.
But the family’s implication that the publication of the conclusions alone – without the rest of the report – undermines the validity of the inquiry as it “has been kept hidden” also merits consideration.
The “principal conclusions” of any magisterial (or judge-led inquiry) constitute the findings, a judgment reached by reasoning formed after considering the relevant facts and evidence. The conclusions of the Egrant saga stand on their own and are a direct consequence of Bugeja’s diligent and expert weighing of the evidence presented.
The fact that the magistrate’s report consists of 1,450 pages of witness and expert evidence and only 48 pages of conclusions does not in any way negate the findings reached. To imply that this imbalance in published pages undermines the validity of those conclusions is pure nonsense – a clutching at straws by those unwilling to accept the inquiry’s findings or wishing to cast doubt on them.
Like the leader of the Opposition and others, I too would like to read the remainder of the inquiry report – not because I am not confident about the validity of the conclusions, but because it will enable us to weigh up more objectively the guilt and responsibility of those who committed fraud, instigated the forgeries, perjured themselves and attempted to pervert the course of justice and blacken the name of the Prime Minister of this country for nefarious political reasons.
The responsibility for publishing the full inquiry rests with the Attorney General. It is solely at his discretion after weighing the public interest – as well as the overriding need to ensure that police investigations are not hampered and their duty to prosecute any individuals shown to have committed a crime is not jeopardised by its publication.
The publication of the full magisterial inquiry will hopefully skewer the conspiracy theories, which underlay the Egrant allegations and have been the staple of politics in Malta since the publication of the Panama Papers two years ago.
Even more importantly, it will establish that in this case there was indeed – this time – a real conspiracy: a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by a person or persons at present unknown who feature prominently in the evidence gathered by the magistrate in the course of his inquiry. The report should be published in full.
But despite this, there are still elements of denial among some people in Malta, who as soon as they have an opinion in politics, stick their heads firmly in the sand, become immune to evidence and assume that the untruths they have been fed can tune out the inconvenient facts contained in the Bugeja inquiry.
The Egrant fable that underpinned the conspiracy theory has left a trail of disaster in its wake. The reputational damage to those who concocted it, spread it and believed it. The largest defeat for any party in Malta’s electoral history. The disarray and threatened break-up of today’s Nationalist Party. And the shattering of pseudo-political activists’ arrogant sense of entitlement.
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