A man accused of trading in influence and complicity in seeking a €60 million bribe from a Swedish tobacco company has obtained a second decision confirming that his human rights were being breached because prosecutors refused to declare evidence closed.
Sliema restauranteur Silvio Zammit had already obtained a similar ruling in 2018, but the attorney general ignored the court’s decision and continued to procrastinate by failing to appear in court for at least 16 sittings.
But this time, Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction denounced the attorney general’s behaviour and ordered the prosecution to declare its case closed immediately.
Zammit has been facing criminal proceedings since 2012 over his alleged request for a bribe from snus manufacturer Swedish Match and the European Smokeless Tobacco Council, a lobby group, to help lift a ban on the chewable tobacco.
At the time, John Dalli was EU Health Commissioner.
The scandal had forced Dalli to resign after the European Anti-Fraud Agency, OLAF, claimed the Maltese politician was aware that his name was being used by Zammit. Dalli has always insisted he never discussed money with Zammit, who had been his canvasser.
The criminal case against Zammit was filed by the Malta police in 2012, but the Attorney General has refused to declare his evidence closed after the key witness in the compilation of evidence against Mr Zammit, Inge Delfosse, had refused to travel to Malta to testify, fearing that she risked incriminating herself by doing so.
Delfosse was an employee with snus producer Swedish Match.
The prosecution’s insistence on having this witness testify, in spite of her persistent refusal, had prompted a constitutional application by Zammit’s defence team, arguing that this stalemate constituted a breach to their client’s fundamental right to a fair hearing.
Madam Justice Anna Felice had upheld his claim, stating that Zammit’s rights had indeed been breached and that such breach would continue to subsist unless the prosecution obtained the Delfosse deposition or else declare that it had no further evidence to produce.
But despite the decision in his favour to years ago, his criminal case before Magistrate Astrid May Grima remained stalled.
Since then 14 sittings were held but the attorney general did not attend any of them and the prosecution continued to refuse to rest its case, instead insisting that it wanted a court-appointed expert to take a sample of Zammit’s voice and compare it to a recording provided by Delfosse.
However, Zammit’s defence team refused to accept, since Delfosse did not present the recording in court or testify on its contents so this was inadmissible evidence.
Without entering the merits of this issue, Mr Justice Ellul declared that Zammit had suffered a violation of his right to justice within a reasonable time under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
He therefore ordered the Magistrate’s Court to declare as closed the prosecution’s evidence and proceed with the reading of the articles at law on which he was being tried.
Lawyers Edward Gatt, Kris Busietta and Julian Farrugia appeared for Zammit.
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