Embattled chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday insisted that he wants the truth about 17 Black to come out and that, “proof of that comes from the fact I am giving evidence in front of inquiries requested by the same people who from time to time try to make a charade out of court proceedings”.
Controversy yesterday continued to grow on Schembri’s reticence to testify in the libel proceedings that he himself had instituted against Busuttil over allegations of graft, corruption and money laundering on the Delimara power station deal and the infamous company 17 Black.
Schembri, speaking with this newspaper yesterday, rebutted accusations related his legal team’s request for the magistrate to recuse himself impinged on his faith in the magistrate, saying, “I respect institutions and I am not part of a group that is trying to unseat the magistrate that was presiding the same court.”
He also said he has no fear of incriminating himself on the witness stand, insisting that, “I never said that I wasn’t giving evidence because of fear of incriminating myself in some way. This is something Dr Simon Busuttil came up with and you might want to verify this independently.
“What I said is that as per my legal advice, I reiterated that I am giving evidence to the Magisterial Inquiries and this testimony should not be prejudiced with respect to the rule of law, and also in respect to a ruling by a higher court.”
The Office of the Prime Minister, however, was not answering questions about Monday’s court debacle that saw Schembri dropping libel proceedings against former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.
Schembri argues that any such testimony he would give in the libel case would impinge other magisterial inquiries underway in his respect, including one specifically concerning the 17 Black accusations.
Critics, however, claim Schembri – who had for a long time repeatedly failed to present himself in court for hearings on the case – fears what could come out under cross examination by lawyers who have long been waiting to have Schembri on the witness stand and that he could either incriminate or end up perjuring himself.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Monday said that, “Once the inquiry [into Keith Schembri and 17 Black] is concluded, all the facts will be made public.”
The OPM did not answer questions yesterday on whether, as per Muscat’s statement, the inquiry would be made public or not, or as to whether the OPM would simply make facts public as it had with the Egrant inquiry, by publishing extracts of the conclusions.
Nor would the OPM answer questions on the prospects of Schembri’s future as a civil servant.
So when are magisterial inquiries published?
Muscat saying the facts will be “made public” may raise eyebrows considering recent experience with publishing, or not publishing the results of magisterial inquiries.
The fact of the matter is that it is up to the Attorney General, on receiving a request, whether to decide on the publication of the inquiry or not.
In a magisterial inquiry, unlike investigations launched under the Inquiries Act, a duty magistrate receives a request put forward by the police or a private citizen, following a report, information or complaints received.
Investigations launched through the Inquiries Act limit the scope of a public official’s activities, and have specific terms of reference. A magisterial inquiry however has a far broader scope due to not being tied down by terms of reference or tied to investigating a public official. It must investigate anything related to the ‘fact’ that is being described in a report sent to the magistrate, allowing for a much broader and more comprehensive investigation.
Once such an inquiry is concluded, the magistrate draws up a report, which is made up of all testimony and is known as the ‘proces verbal’. This report is then sent to the Attorney General, together with recommendations. Should the proces verbal, which contains all expert evidence as well as testimony, include a recommendation that action be taken against somebody, a copy is sent to the police.
If there is no such recommendation and the Attorney General believes that further investigation should be carried out, he may ask the Magistrate to continue with his inquiry.
There is no procedure or obligation for a Magistrate to inform the public that an inquiry has been concluded. It is also up to the discretion of the Attorney General whether to publish the report or not, after a formal request is made. Such a request can be made by any ordinary citizen.
In addition to this, throughout the course of a Magisterial Inquiry, the magistrate and the police work together, with the magistrate overseeing the whole process, and the police carrying out the investigations. Police involved in a magisterial inquiry may at least hold the rank of inspector, and are essential because the role of the police is clearly defined by law as the authority responsible to investigate any possible crimes and keep the public peace.
Original article found on The Malta Independent