Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s personal lawyer is redacting the 1,500-page Egrant inquiry report himself, despite the Attorney General, the magistrate who wrote it, police investigators and several legal minds all being against its release.
Sources told The Sunday Times of Malta that in recent weeks Dr Muscat had called on several legal experts to weigh in on his plan to release the full magisterial inquiry into allegations that his wife owned the once-secret offshore company Egrant.
The majority of those consulted were “overwhelmingly against” releasing it, giving a number of reasons it could compromise the government’s position and set a precedent that would be uncomfortable for the judiciary.
“The experts said that the publication of the report could prejudice third parties who are extraneous to the Egrant case. It could jeopardise ongoing investigations, including one into very serious matters involving large sums of money and foreign jurisdictions,” said a source privy to some of details of the inquiry
“Even publishing a redacted version, while this is the Prime Minister’s intended course, is not straightforward,” the source added.
Multiple sources have confirmed that the redaction of sensitive information from the report was being carried out by Dr Muscat’s personal lawyer, Paul Lia, with some questioning whether it should not have been carried out instead by the Attorney General in his official capacity.
And even if the published version of the document will have been adequately blackened out, its release has many in the judicial and law enforcement system sitting uneasy.
Opposition leader Adrian Delia has filed a case in the constitutional courts requesting a copy of the full inquiry, after the Attorney General refused to provide one to him.
Dr Delia is arguing that he has been placed at a distinct political disadvantage by the Attorney General’s decision to hand the Prime Minister the inquiry while denying him a copy.
The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, who authored the document, has “indirectly communicated” his discomfort with its publication.
One source, a sitting member of the judiciary, said: “There is a reason these things are not normally published. Reports like this are not written for public consumption. They are meant to be part of a legal process.”
The source explained that such a lengthy report would be riddled with caveats and nuance that could only be properly understood when seen as part of a whole.
“If single parts are taken out of context as part of some political exercise, it could be made to look, in the public’s eyes, as though something is wrong, and who is going to explain otherwise? And what if we start releasing other inquiries?
“The result might be magistrates fearing this sort of public scrutiny, and then the whole system suffers. Magistrates are meant to be at ease when conducting inquiries, not wondering whether they are about to face a public lynching. This is a can of worms that should not be opened,” the source said.
Sources close to Dr Muscat admitted that Magistrate Bugeja could very well face the sort of public scrutiny that the member of the bench forecast once the Egrant inquiry was made public – describing this as an “unfortunate and unintended consequence”.
But confronted with fears that publication would set a precedent, the same sources said they did not envisage further report releases, adding that this was a “unique scenario”.
In 2016, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici published the entire inquiry report on the PlusOne club banister collapse in Paceville. But only the main conclusions of the the Paqpaqli għall-Istrina car show inquiry have been released.
A senior police source said that the publication of the Egrant magisterial inquiry report was a matter of concern for law enforcement on a number of fronts.
“There are several avenues that are being investigated and this will take a lot of time. These matters are complex and are not just a matter of summoning people for questioning and arresting them, as some would have people believe,” the source said, adding that investigators had hoped the report would remain under wraps until the police’s work was done.
As for the release date, that is anyone’s guess. Dr Muscat has so far not given any indication of when the document will be made public, with sources saying the government was giving investigators time to conduct their inquiries.
Rumours have been whispered in the back halls of government that the report will be released sometime between the end of this month and the beginning of October. Sources close to Dr Muscat, however, have said only that the timeline remains uncertain.
The Egrant saga so far
The main conclusions of the inquiry report were released by the Attorney General’s Office on a bright July Sunday morning, moments before Prime Minister Muscat called a dramatic press conference to comment on its findings and shed tears of relief that the ‘nightmare’ was finally over.
Set up in 2013 by government consultants Nexia BT, shell company Egrant was first exposed in the 2016 Panama Papers leaks.
While the Panama Papers never contained any evidence as to whom the company was ultimately intended for, the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last year linked it to the Prime Minister’s wife, saying documents and a confidential source showed she had used it to receive graft from Azerbaijan’s ruling elites.
The main findings of the inquiry report, a sort of executive summary, lay out how the magistrate found that there was no proof to back up the allegations and that one of the main documents substantiating the murdered journalist’s claim had been falsified.
Borrowing from Fyodor Dostoevsky, Magistrate Bugeja concluded that: “A hundred suspicions do not make a truth.”
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