Sacrificing the sanctioning of a person in pursuance of their testimony in a much larger case is commonplace in the criminal field and is the last resort to help the police unblock an investigation that has reached dead-end, according to legal experts.
They said such pardons were exclusively given when this person’s account in a court of law would secure a prosecution of someone who would have committed a more serious offence.
Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that he had signed a letter which will provide a presidential pardon to a man believed to be the middleman in the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
According to Dr Muscat, the man was arrested last week as part of an investigation into a money-laundering ring.
Following his arrest, he requested a blanket pardon in return for information that he could provide on the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia.
The experts explained that granting a presidential pardon is specifically mentioned in Article 93 of Malta’s Constitution.
Pardons help police with investigations
Also referred to as a “prerogative of mercy”, the provision outlines four circumstances where the President can grant someone a pardon but only the first circumstance applied for the alleged middleman in this case: when a person is involved in or convicted of any offence, where a free pardon or one subject to lawful conditions can be granted.
Dr Muscat had said that the pardon was promised subject to a number of conditions. Although not all the conditions were mentioned, experts said that these are usually standard, such as telling the truth, appearing in court every time he is asked to present himself in court to testify and that his version stands up in court.
“If the person collaborates and the information provided is sufficient to prosecute the mastermind of this crime, they will receive a presidential pardon,” Dr Muscat told journalists on Tuesday, adding that the person is said to have other evidence and not just his testimony.
Legal experts contacted on Thursday said they saw nothing abnormal in the way this man was guaranteed a pardon subject to conditions.
The reason why these conditions are given is so that in the eventuality of a backtrack, the person would not have benefitted from the pardon.
“The benefits are two-pronged: it benefits justice because the testimony would help secure a prosecution and it benefits the person too as he will tell all in exchange for a pardon. The challenge of the decision-makers is to strike a balance between what is the higher goal,” one legal expert said.
Another explained that pardons are usually adopted to help police with investigations, similar to whistleblowers but with different conditions.
Although not stipulated in the Constitution, it is usually the Prime Minister or the Justice Minister who recommends granting someone a presidential pardon which would eventually need to be signed by the President.
According to replies given in Parliament, nearly 400 pardons were granted between 2003 and 2013. Most of these were for cases where people file a petition for a leaner sentence.
Some high-profile cases where presidential pardons were given include those of Joseph Fenech, also known as Zeppi l-Ħafi, who was pardoned to say all on at least four cases, including the attempted murder of former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami’s personal assistant, Richard Cachia Caruana.
More recently, oil trader George Farrugia turned State witness in the case about alleged kickbacks paid to top Enemalta officials from oil suppliers.