One of Daphne Caruana Galizia's sons has called for an independent inquiry after Yorgen Fenech's lawyers were acquitted of an attempt to bribe a Times of Malta journalist on Monday.
"This was an open and shut bribery case against the legal counsel to the man indicted with masterminding my mother’s assassination," Andrew Caruana Galizia said in a tweet.
"There has to be an independent inquiry. My family and the public deserve to have faith in the AG’s ability and willingness to prosecute corruption."
His two brothers also weighed in. Matthew Caruana Galizia dubbed the acquittal as "shocking incompetence" and said that "the judgement makes it clear that if the AG did things the right way, there would have been a conviction".
And Paul Caruana Galizia insisted that despite the acquittal, the facts still stand - that "Yorgen Fenech's lawyers tried to bribe a journalist for favourable coverage of their client, who stands charged with ordering [his] mother's murder".
Media lawyer Flutura Kusari, who is the legal advisor to the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom said the outcome displayed how "powerful people get away with crimes in Malta".
On Monday, Yorgen Fenech's lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca were cleared of attempting to bribe Times of Malta senior journalist Ivan Martin after the magistrate said the Attorney General had not indicated the relevant type of bribery.
Martin said that at the end of a 20-minute meeting in Valletta in November 2020, Caruana Curran handed over folded €500 notes. Caruana Curran had admitted that “remuneration was offered” and that he only offered the money because he had never dealt with a journalist before.
But when delivering judgment, the court, presided over by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, observed that although the two lawyers had been charged with active bribery and the compilation of evidence concerned that offence, the Attorney General had indicated another provision of law in its note for referral.
Because of this 'mistake', the lawyers were cleared of the charges.
Once again, justice was not served - editor-in-chief
Times of Malta editor-in-chief Herman Grech flagged his concern over lack of justice.
"Our journalist did what was expected of him: continue investigating one of the biggest crimes of our generation. He also informed his superiors about an attempted case of bribery related to the same case and I am pleased to see that the court has acknowledged this.
"Still, it is worrying to see that once again justice was not served because of a technical error made by the AG's office. This case also confirms that when journalists publish information exposing corruption, crime and abuse of power they find hardly any protection from State entities."
AG should resign or be fired - Repubblika
NGO Repubblika demanded that attorney general Victoria Buttigieg is fired or resign, saying that her shortcoming is of "utmost gravity" and that it is unacceptable for a democratic state to stay silent in the face of this acquittal.
"The court found that these lawyers indeed tried to bribe journalist Ivan Martin. But because of what the AG did, the court could not find them guilty," the NGO said in a statement.
"This country has come to a point where a journalist refused a bribe and honoured his duties, honest police officers investigated and charged those who tried to bribe him, and after months of court hearings, those who tried to bribe him were freed of charges because of the AG's mistake."
Repubblika said that if the AG does not resign, parliament must take action to fire her.
Journalists not protected by the institutions - Institute
The Institute of Maltese Journalists said the Attorney General’s ‘mistake’ was another case where journalists were not protected by the institutions that should be there to protect them and all other ordinary citizens.
"Rather than stand by the journalist, the Attorney General erred, qualifying the criminal offence wrongly and forcing the magistrate to clear the lawyers of attempted bribery."
The institute noted that the magistrate made it clear in her judgment that the journalist had refused the money offered to him by the lawyers and at no stage did the prosecution consider charging him with corruption.
On the contrary, Ivan Martin carried out his duty with utmost responsibility by not only refusing the money but also reporting the case that led the police to charge the lawyers.
The Institute expressed solidarity with Ivan Martin, praised him for having the courage to report the matter and it urged journalists to continue striving to expose the truth through their stories despite persistent undermining by the country’s highest authorities.
"Apart from expecting the AG to shoulder responsibility for this blunder, which we hope was unintentional and the result of inexperience in criminal proceedings, the IGM stresses that it is about time that the authorities start protecting the fourth pillar of democracy in a more serious way," the institute said.
Times of Malta has sent questions to the AG and the Chamber of Advocates.
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