The government has set up an independent inquiry into how Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers were acquitted of attempting to bribe a Times of Malta journalist due to a procedural error in the type of bribery that had been committed.

Sources said Justice Minister Jonathan Attard had appointed former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi to investigate how the two lawyers had been charged with active bribery but the office of Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg had indicated another provision of law in its note for referral.

Because of this ‘mistake’, lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca were cleared of the charges.

The lawyers were last month cleared of charges that stemmed from an attempt to hand over hundreds of euros to senior journalist Ivan Martin at the end of a meeting at their Valletta office.

According to Martin, 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.

Their high-profile client stands accused of complicity to murder journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in an October 2017 car bomb. 

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras observed that, although the two lawyers had been charged with active bribery and the compilation of evidence was about that offence, the attorney general had indicated another provision of law in its note for referral.

Sources said the attorney general’s office has appealed the judgment arguing that there was no error and that this was a question of interpretation of the note of referral by the presiding magistrate.

The independent inquiry had been requested by Caruana Galizia’s son, Andrew, who, in a tweet shortly after the judgment said: “This was an open and shut bribery case against the legal counsel to the man indicted with masterminding my mother’s assassination.

“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,” he had added.

His two brothers had also weighed in. Matthew Caruana Galizia dubbed the acquittal as “shocking incompetence” and said that “the judgment makes it clear that if the AG did things the right way, there would have been a conviction”.

Paul Caruana Galizia insisted that, despite the acquittal, the facts still stand: “Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers tried to bribe a journalist for favourable coverage of their client, who stands charged with ordering [his] mother’s murder.”

The error had also come under fire by independent media freedom organisations, the Institute of Maltese Journalists and NGOs Repubblika and Occupy Justice, which called for the AG’s resignation.

 

 

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