Panama Papers appeal: open court ruling expected tomorrow
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.