Panama Pa­pers ap­peal: open court rul­ing ex­pected to­mor­row

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - NEWS -

As the ap­peal drags on fol­low­ing a mag­is­trate’s de­ci­sion to open an in­quiry into whether money-laun­der­ing laws had been breached by high-rank­ing mem­bers of govern­ment when they opened Pana­ma­nian com­pa­nies and New Zealand trusts, as re­vealed by the Panama Pa­pers. A de­ci­sion on whether pro­ceed­ings will con­tinue to be heard be­hind closed doors or not is ex­pected to be taken to­mor­row.

The case had been in­sti­tuted by for­mer Na­tion­al­ist Party leader Si­mon Busut­til.

In ad­di­tion to a de­ci­sive rul­ing on the ap­peals – lodged by Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat, his chief of staff Keith Schem­bri and Tourism Min­is­ter Kon­rad Mizzi, as well as Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Mal­colm Scerri and Adrian Hill­man – the court will also need to rule on a re­quest by Busut­til for Mr Jus­tice An­to­nio Mizzi to re­cuse him­self from the case.

Tonna and Cini were in­volved in the set­ting up of the com­pa­nies and trusts, while Scerri and Hill­man were al­legedly in­volved with Schem­bri in over­seas fi­nan­cial set­ups.

The re­cusal re­quest is based on Mr Jus­tice Mizzi be­ing the hus­band of Labour Party MEP Mar­lene Mizzi, who had spo­ken out against the Op­po­si­tion’s crit­i­cism of mem­bers of govern­ment ex­posed in the Panama Pa­pers’ rev­e­la­tions.

Last Monday, the case was bogged down by ar­gu­ments over whether the ap­peal, or at least the is­sue deal­ing with the judge’s re­cusal, should be held in open court or not.

Al­though Busut­til is, as of to­day, no longer the party’s leader, he will re­main a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and he has re­peat­edly pledged to con­tinue the fight.

He said af­ter last Monday’s case, "I can as­sure you, I will keep on fight­ing for jus­tice to pre­vail. It is very clear that the other party in this case wants to pro­long the process."

On 26 July, Mag­is­trate Ian Far­ru­gia had ruled there were enough grounds for a mag­is­te­rial in­quiry to be opened into Busut­til’s al­le­ga­tions that money laun­der­ing, and pos­si­bly other laws had been bro­ken when com­pa­nies had been opened in Panama by Mizzi and Schem­bri soon af­ter the 2013 gen­eral elec­tion.

That same day, just hours af­ter the rul­ing had been de­liv­ered, the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter is­sued a state­ment through the Depart­ment of In­for­ma­tion to the ef­fect that mem­bers of govern­ment in­volved would be co­op­er­at­ing fully with any such in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The ac­cused had been given 48 hours to file an ap­peal against the rul­ing.

But the next morn­ing, less than 24 hours later, they did a U-turn and filed an ap­peal against the rul­ing.

De­spite calls for the ap­peal to be heard with ur­gency, the first ap­peal hear­ing was held on 16 Au­gust and the next was heard last Monday, 11 Septem­ber. Now, roughly a mon­t­hand-a-half down the line, the court has still to de­cide on whether it will be heard in open court or not and, af­ter that, the re­quest for re­cusal will also need to be de­cided on.

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