Edward Caruana, a former official of the Foundation for Tomorrow's Schools, was acquitted of criminal liability in a bribery case on Monday, with the court finding that he was not a public officer, as charged.
The former canvasser of then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had been accused of bribery and corruption in a case dating back to 2016.
It was alleged that he asked for bribes in relation to various government work contracts on the building of new schools and maintenance works.
In a dossier to the police, former CEO Philip Rizzo had claimed that Caruana used to falsify invoices while the FTS passed on to him cheques for more than €8 million in payments to contractors, which Caruana insisted on delivering by hand.
Allegations had also been made by Gozitan contractor Giovann Vella.
Caruana was not a public official
On the basis of the evidence put forward, the court, presided over by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, observed that “by no stretch of the imagination” and lacking the necessary proof, could it be determined that Caruana was a public official or employee at the time of the alleged wrongdoing.
His contract of service dated October 2013 contained no disposition to the effect that he was a public officer.
The court observed that job vacancies were posted by the FTS and not the public service.
The relative salary was established and paid by the Foundation too, not the public service.
In fact, official information about the public service and public sector stated clearly that “such entities belong to the government,” but “are not part of the government.”
Caruana moved to FTS after employment with Resource Support and Services Limited, a private company and no sufficient evidence was brought to prove that he had reassumed the role of public official.
He had been seconded to MSDEC and then redeployed to another private company, Industrial Projects Services Ltd and did not return to the public sector.
It was indispensable to summon a representative of the People and Standards Division at OPM or the Public Service Commission to certify this issue, or else to exhibit the document setting up the Foundation.
Since the alleged wrongdoing was attributed to Caruana as a public official and since that “essential requisite” was not sufficiently proved, the court did not delve into further legal requisites, but acquitted the accused.
The court deemed Vella's evidence as unreliable He first told police that Caruana had gone to his home on Santa Marija feast day in 2015, then later under cross examination, he said it was 2014. He brought his diaries with him to court because years had lapsed. The court said that his declaration "brought down in one blow" the prosecution's case, annihilating years of meticulous investigations.
It also ordered the Police Commissioner to investigate whether the case presented any criminal wrongdoing by persons who issued false invoices.
A freezing order on Caruana's assets was lifted.
Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Stephen Tonna Lowell were defence counsel.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us