Updated 11.05am, adds PN statement
Anthony Debono, husband of former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono, has been cleared of all charges in connection with what had been described as a “works-for-votes scandal” after a court found that the whistleblower who made the allegations was not credible.
Magistrate Neville Camilleri ruled on Wednesday that the revelations by the contractor-turned-whistleblower, Joseph Cauchi, did not reach the required level of evidence to prove his claims beyond reasonable doubt.
Moreover, the magistrate noted that the police should have investigated the case better before taking the case to court.
“The court believes that this case could have been better investigated by the police and that the accused could have been prevented from being brought to court and having to face serious criminal charges against him,” the magistrate said.
He added that while the court could have found guilt based on the account of just one witness, “the fact that Cauchi had been given whistleblower status does not necessarily mean that what he was saying was the truth”.
Debono had been charged in May 2015 with 13 charges of misappropriation of public funds in excess of €5,000, fraud, falsification of documents, abuse of power and committing a crime he was duty-bound to prevent, to the detriment of the government of Malta.
He had also been accused of making a false declaration and having tried to prevent other people from giving information or evidence to the competent authorities.
The allegations surfaced two months prior when the contractor claimed that Debono engaged them to carry out works in private properties which were then meant to be paid for by the Ministry of Gozo. He made the claim after he was never paid for this alleged work. Debono was a former civil servant in the Gozo Ministry.
His wife had resigned from the Nationalist Party parliamentary group soon after the arraignment, pledging to defend her integrity and her family’s and to prove her husband’s innocence. She retained her seat in parliament as an independent politician and did not contest the 2017 general election, thereby retiring from politics.
Debono had been first elected in 1987 and re-elected in subsequent elections. She was appointed Gozo Minister in 1998 and remained in the position until 2013 when Labour was elected.
Cauchi had testified that he carried out works for the Gozo minister for 25 years. The whistleblower explained that works commissioned directly by Anthony Debono which were at the heart of the case included the building of rooms in a quarry belonging to Sammy Camilleri, (barumbara) amounting to some €9,000; works on a five-a-side Għarb ground, and another concrete platform, costing €13,000; works in a restaurant, including the wine cellar of a restaurant, concrete works on the road leading to the Fontana fireworks factory and the construction of walls in Għarb.
Cauchi said he could never invoice directly for these works as they were not covered by tender but instead Debono used to tell him how to issue the invoices so as not to raise suspicion.
Following the 2013 election, the contractor complained to the Works Department head who refused to settle the pending amounts, leading him to file a report on the matter.
But Magistrate Camilleri was not convinced about the veracity of the claims.
“Although the court may speculate on what may have happened, these are just conjectures and nothing based on concrete evidence. The suspicions that one may have in (Debono) vanish into thin air after all is taken into account,” the magistrate said in his judgment.
He ruled that the police had not managed to prove the case and cleared Debono of all charges brought against him.
Assistant Commissioner Ian Joseph Abdilla and police inspector Rennie Stivala prosecuted. Lawyer Joe Giglio represented Debono.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the judgement brought to nothing the stories moved by the Labour Party to taint and break up the former minister, her husband and her family.
In spite of the PL’s attempts, it said, no Nationalist politician was tainted by corruption.
The same could not be said for Labour, which was facing an unprecedented number of serious accusations on at least a sitting and a former minister, who were being implicated in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and a serious robbery.
The PN welcomed the court decision and noted that the accusations had been just a conjecture which had placed Debono’s family in years of unnecessary hardship.
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