A Magistrate’s Court has turned down a request for a reference to the constitutional court made by one of the alleged murderers of Daphne Caruana Galizia, currently also facing prosecution for alleged money-laundering.
The decision was handed down on Tuesday by Magistrate Joseph Mifsud following an application filed by George Degiorgio’s lawyer last month, challenging the prosecution's presentation of an affidavit drawn up years ago by Mr Degiorgio in separate civil proceedings.
Lawyer William Cuschieri argued that the affidavit, drawn up in 2013 before any investigations and criminal proceedings had kicked off, impinged on Mr Degiorgio’s right to silence since it had been “fished out” by prosecutors in an apparent attempt to bypass the accused’s choice not to reply to any questions during police interrogation.
Therefore the presentation of such affidavit breached the accused’s right to a fair hearing as safeguarded under article 6 of the European Convention by violating his right to silence or privilege against self-incrimination, Dr Cuschieri argued.
George Degiorgio is facing money-laundering accusations alongside his brother Alfred and partner, Anca Adelina Pop, after investigations into the journalist’s assassination two years ago had roused suspicion about the Degiorgios lavish lifestyle.
Although both men claimed to be unemployed, did not file tax returns and had mostly dormant bank accounts, their lifestyle, including luxury cars and pleasure boats, appeared to indicate otherwise.
When making final oral submissions during the previous hearing, Attorney General lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo had argued that the said affidavit had been filed in a public suit of a civil nature and there was nothing stopping the prosecution from filing the document in the current criminal proceedings.
Making reference to a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in Van Vondel vs Holland, the prosecution argued that its use of sworn declarations by the accused did not breach his right to silence.
When delivering judgment on Tuesday the Court observed that in such circumstances the court was not “called upon nor competent to decide upon the merits of the case” but only to consider whether the request for a constitutional reference was frivolous or vexatious.
For such request to be legally justified, the issue raised had to be such that unless resolved would create an obstacle to the continuation of the proceedings and a final decision on the merits, Magistrate Mifsud declared.
In this case, there was “no need for the court to wait for the constitutional issue to be resolved before continuing to hear the case on its merits,” said the court, expressing its opinion that raising the issue “at this stage was frivolous and vexatious.”
It therefore rejected Mr Degiorgio’s request and ordered the proceedings to continue.
The case was adjourned to February.
Superintendent Antonovitch Muscat prosecuted.
Lawyer David Gatt was counsel to Ms Pop.