An eleventh-hour request filed by three ministers asking not to testify about how they obtained information which had not featured in the published conclusions of the Egrant report was necessary because of an ongoing magisterial inquiry in their regard, a lawyer said in court on Monday.
Aron Mifsud Bonnici was forced to explain after stern words by Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi who said he was “frustrated” by the late filing of the application, remarking that the lawyer “had all summer” to formulate the Ministers’ request.
“At least you ought to have done so out of respect towards the Court and the other parties,” said the Chief Justice.
As the Constitutional case filed by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia over his access to the entire Egrant report continued in court, Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi turned up in court while Finance Minister Edward Scicluna notified the court about his absence in view of his commitments on Budget day.
It was last week when the ministers filed an application to be exempted from testifying in the Egrant case, in view of the potential inquiry, based on allegations which could possibly lead to accusations bearing a prison term. They had been ordered to testify by a court in July.
The matter dates back to last June when the three government ministers appeared to quote from unpublished sections of the magisterial report into the Panama company Egrant Inc. when testifying in a court case seeking an inquiry into the controversial Vitals Global Healthcare deal.
Documents presented in court to rebut such allegations were not to be accessible to anyone accept the Court and the parties concerned, argued Dr Mifsud Bonnici.
Turning towards Attorney General Peter Grech, the Chief Justice asked whether he could “declare if these three Ministers had access to the Egrant report.”
“If not, we would have to reach a conclusion alone,” said Chief Justice Azzopardi, adding that an alternative route would be to present the quote allegedly lifted from the unpublished part of the report.
“Then we might come to our own conclusions,” said the Chief Justice.
“I understand that the Court is trying to be practical, but that document is privileged,” came back Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s reply, as Dr Grech intervened, citing one particular article of law which declared that a witness could not testify about documents which could not be exhibited.
“That article basically sums up all this discussion,” was Dr Grech’s succinct argument.
However, lawyer Vincent Galea, assisting Dr Delia, would hear none of that, strongly arguing that this was a confusing situation.
“So others may use the document in other proceedings but here we are told that it cannot be exhibited,” said Dr Galea, going on to state that the government was adopting a “pick and choose attitude” selecting bits of the report “to attack Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
“It’s most important for the three ministers to testify to tell us whether they had access to the full report,” stressed Dr Galea, pointing out that others, besides the Prime Minister, had access thereto.
“We were first told that only the PM had a copy. Then we got to know that Minister Owen Bonnici, then (government lawyer) Pawlu Lia, Kurt Farrugia and others and now, these three ministers,” the lawyer argued.
“This is political discrimination by the Attorney General,” said Dr Galea, “he is denying the Opposition Leader a copy. These three ministers have a copy and the AG continues to protect them.”
The Court adjourned the case to November. A decision on whether the Ministers are to testify or not will be taken in chambers.
PN: Ministers trying to hide the truth
In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said ministers Chris Cardona, Konrad Mizzi and Edward Scicluna do not want the people to know the truth about Egrant and do not want the report of the magisterial inquiry to be published.
This, the PN said, was a surreal situation where the three ministers, despite having been ordered by a court, were trying to avoid having to give evidence on non-public parts of the Egrant report that had earlier quoted.
Opposition leader Adrian Delia remained determined to establish the whole truth because the country, in the interests of democracy, had a duty to know the whole story, the party said.