Updated 2pm with further details, reaction
Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers have been cleared of attempting to bribe a Times of Malta journalist after the magistrate said the Attorney General had not indicated the relevant type of bribery.
Judgment was delivered on Monday morning against lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca in proceedings 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.
Martin said that at the end of the 20-minute meeting in Valletta in November 2020, Caruana Curran handed over the 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.
Fenech stands accused of complicity to murder journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in an October 2017 car bomb. Her son, Andrew, reacted to the bribery case outcome by calling for an inquiry into the Attorney General.
Active bribery v passive bribery
When delivering judgment, the court, presided over by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, observed that although the two lawyers had been charged with active bribery and the compilation of evidence concerned that offence, the Attorney General had indicated another provision of law in its note for referral.
The court observed that the prosecution had cited no article of law in the summons.
But it was nonetheless evident that the wording of the summons reflected that of article 120(2) of the Criminal Code. In other words, the lawyers were being charged with attempting to induce the journalist to commit an offence.
It said that while the allegations of the case fell clearly within the framework of the offence of active bribery, the AG had indicated another provision of law that concerned passive bribery in the private sector.
'Journalist firmly declined money'
The judgment says the records of the case show that during a meeting at the accused's office, Gianluca Caruana Curran offered money to Ivan Martin.
"The journalist firmly declined that money. Therefore the offence attributed by prosecution was attempted active bribery in the private sector."
In fact, the prosecution never intended to press charges against the journalist himself, who was cleared, from day one, to testify in the proceedings against the lawyers.
It says that though Caruana Curran offered money to the journalist, the defence argued that it did not amount to any criminal offence.
Although the original summons was worded in such manner as to “embrace” such allegations, the AG had “chosen” to indicate other articles upon which the court was to deliver judgment.
And article 120(2) did not feature anywhere in the AG’s note of referral.
Citing jurisprudence on this point, the court said that once the relevant article was not indicated by the AG, it could not apply that article when delivering judgment.
Likewise in this case, active bribery or the attempt thereof had not been indicated and thus the court could only pronounce an acquittal.
Lawyers Giannella de Marco and Stephen Tonna Lowell were defence counsel.