GSD questions AG’s decision to halt fraud case
The GSD issued a stinging reaction on Wednesday night to the latest developments in the case against three men accused of defrauding Bland Ltd, questioning whether the decision to halt the case would in effect bury evidence that potentially was “politically uncomfortable or damaging” to ministers.
The GSD was reacting after the Attorney General issued a statement in which he said that while the evidential test had been met to proceed to trial, it was not in the public interest to do so.
“This is a case which among others involved a senior official who worked closely with ministers and concerned high-value contracts with the Government,” the GSD said.
“The case has been ongoing since 2020. It would likely have kicked up evidence of discussions with ministers including the Chief Minister.”
“It is an open secret that this case may give rise to evidence linked to wider politically uncomfortable matters that remain pending or on which the shield of public interest has also been invoked such as the early departure of Commissioner McGrail.”
The GSD said there was a public interest in ensuring that the executive was not protected from uncomfortable evidence.
The Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said: “People may feel that the effect - if not the intention - of this decision is to bury evidence that was politically uncomfortable to ministers.”
“The halting of the prosecution would now prevent the emergence of any such uncomfortable evidence in full public view.”
“That is also a matter of public interest and does not serve the interests of democracy or accountability.”
Mr Azopardi said that any sensitive material that was to have been revealed in court could have been shielded had the prosecution sought permission to hear part of the proceedings under protective measures.
While the prosecution may have failed in such an application, Mr Azopardi said the effect of halting a prosecution of this nature could not be ministers were protected from uncomfortable or politically damaging evidence.
“Ministers should not benefit from public interest decisions,” Mr Azopardi said.
“As we have pointed out in the Commissioner McGrail case when the public interest is invoked to prevent disclosures there is a competing public interest to ensure that what happens also takes into account the wider protection of our democracy and constitutional checks and balances.”
“The same issues arise when a prosecution is halted in the public interest and its effect is that damaging or politically uncomfortable evidence to ministers is buried.”
“The presence of such matters should also have been considered as part of that judgment of what to do in this case and the exercise of the public interest.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Attorney General asked to see the Leader of the Opposition about the matter.
Mr Llamas explained to Mr Azopardi the basis on which he had taken the decision.
Mr Azopardi said he made it clear to the Attorney General that it seemed to him that the effect of such a decision would be that evidence that might have emerged in the case that was damaging or politically uncomfortable to individual ministers or the political Government “would be buried”.
According to Mr Azopardi, the Attorney General insisted that was not the basis on which his decision had been taken.
The Leader of the Opposition told the Attorney General that this was, in his view, how it could be seen and the effect of it and that he believed those issues had not been properly balanced in the public interest.