Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said he will not interfere in the autonomy of the Attorney General’s office that, last week, accepted a plea deal and dropped attempted homicide charges against one of the suspects in the botched 2010 HSBC heist.

“I am aware that this was a shocking decision for some… But under the rule of law, the attorney general is an autonomous entity and should be allowed to do her job. I cannot interfere. The AG’s office exercised its discretion.

"My role, as minister, is to strengthen the entities - which I did by separating the AG’s office from the State, investing in the office and increasing the budget allocated,” Zammit Lewis said.

He was fielding questions by various media houses who asked about his views on the recent decision by Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg to offer an eleventh-hour plea deal to Darren Debono, known as It-Topo.

Edward Zammit Lewis (right) speaking on Tuesday. Photo: Jonathan BorgEdward Zammit Lewis (right) speaking on Tuesday. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The deal saw attempted homicide charges against Debono, dropped in exchange for him pleading guilty to attempted robbery and testifying against other suspects. 

He was sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail for his involvement in the 2010 failed heist, during which tens of shots were fired at police officers who interrupted the hold-up on HSBC’s Qormi headquarters.

The Nationalist Party and the Malta Police Union have both questioned the AG's decision and asked for an explanation, with the union saying such decisions undermined morale among officers.

Neither Buttigieg nor her office have commented. 

Asked what his message to police was, Zammit Lewis said that he gave police his support and investment and “understands their situation” but would not enter into debates on the matter involving an autonomous entity.  

What about the Daphne Inquiry? 

Journalists also asked Zammit Lewis to react to the bill presented by the Nationalist Party incorporating all the major recommendations made by the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. 

Protests attend an event demanding justice for murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Photo: Matthew MirabelliProtests attend an event demanding justice for murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Zammit Lewis insisted that the government had already made many changes to the law that addressed the fight against organised crime and the way judges and the president were appointed, among others. More measures will be announced in the coming days, he said.

He did not rule out working with the Opposition if the PN measures made sense.

The PN’s mega-bill incorporates 12 different bills that amend Malta's criminal code or constitution, to bring laws in line with what judges who drafted the Caruana Galizia inquiry report advised needed to change.

Published in July, the report concluded that the state bore responsibility for the journalist's murder in October 2017, as it had fostered a culture of impunity stretching to the highest echelons of power.

The three-person board of inquiry made a series of recommendations about how laws and processes should be changed to prevent a similar crime from reoccurring. Prime Minister Robert Abela reacted to the report by apologising on the state's behalf and pledging to incorporate the inquiry's recommendations following consultation. 

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