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Republika files constitutional complaint against magistrate with family ties to Muscat lawyer

Repubblika filed a constitutional complaint this morning, following the refusal of magistrate Nadine Lia to recuse herself from the challenge procedure initiated by the NGO Rule of Law.

As part of the challenge procedure, the NGO is asking the court to oblige the police commissioner to prosecute several individuals pointed out by the Pilatus Bank investigation. Repubblica argues that the magistrate’s refusal to recuse herself constitutes a violation of her right to a fair trial before an impartial tribunal.

This is what emerges from a petition filed this morning before the First Chamber of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction by Republika’s lawyer, Jason Azzopardi. In the application, the organization argues that an article of the Code of Organization and Civil Procedure which grants the magistrate presiding over the recusal procedure exclusive discretionary power, immune from any legal challenge, is unconstitutional.

But before we look at the latest court filing, it’s probably best to recap how things got to this point.

Appeal procedure against the police commissioner

In June this year, Republika had initiated a challenge procedure against the Commissioner of Police demanding that said Commissioner be forced to immediately indict the former directors of Pilatus Bank and a number of other people, a number of offences, including money laundering and criminal association. , as ordered by the judicial inquiry into the bank, in 2021.

In the sworn motion requesting the challenge procedure, Repubblika said it showed that the Pilatus investigation ended in March 2021 and that among its findings it ordered the police to bring charges of money laundering and association of criminals against several people. These included “close friends of ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his ex-chief of staff Keith Schembri, as well as the fact that the masterful investigation had found grounds for additional charges of drug trafficking. influence against Schembri,” he said.

The recusal procedure had been entrusted to magistrate Nadine Lia, who is usually in charge of such cases. Repubblika immediately asked the magistrate to recuse herself from the investigation of this case, on the grounds that she is married to the son of Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia.

READ ALSO: Police commissioner describes Republika’s challenge to inaction after Pilatus inquiry findings as ‘fishing expedition’

The Muscat connection

In 2017, Pawlu Lia formally filed, on Muscat’s behalf, a request resulting in the Egrant inquiry, along with the inquiry’s “terms of reference” – the parameters within which it was to operate.

The investigation was tasked with determining whether a $1 million payment from a Pilatus account held by “Al Sahra FZCO” of Leyla Aliyeva of Azerbaijan, was made to “Egrant Inc” on behalf of the Muscat’s wife, Michelle.

In 2018, the Egrant Inquiry concluded that it had seen no evidence of this transaction and found no evidence linking Egrant to the Muscats.

Magistrate Lia had ordered Repubblika to submit this request in writing, before adjourning the case to October 27, when Repubblika could formally request the magistrate’s recusal.

The NGO’s lawyer said he was faced with a dilemma: hand over the information in support of his request to a magistrate whom the organization had already said he did not trust, or obey the law which requires a maximum transparency during requests for recusal. Repubblika said it chose to obey the law and disclosed the main reasons for its request to the magistrate. In its written submissions, Repubblika also recalled an incident in which Pawlu Lia allegedly accosted the NGO’s president in Valletta and scolded him for 15 minutes for raising the issue of his family ties in the case.

In a decree issued on August 29, magistrate Lia had rejected his request for recusal.

A few days later, on September 1, the Republika had filed its third request for the magistrate to be challenged, which was also refused a week later. In her order, the magistrate also rejected the request of the NGO to summon the lawyer Pawlu Lia, her father-in-law, to testify at the next hearing and reproached him for not having also referred to the investigation. Egrant in his original request.

Repubblika last week released notarized documents which it says show the separate Pilatus Bank investigation had also ordered the attorney general to reopen the Egrant investigation because a report by forensic experts named in the The Egrant investigation had been ignored, despite experts finding evidence of a secret parallel accounting system at Pilatus Bank, which could have been used to conceal payment of the alleged bribe.

READ ALSO: Repubblika publishes a certified reproduction of the conclusions of the Pilatus Bank investigation

Republika accuses the Magistrate of having ignored the notarized documents he had attached to the request and of having falsely stated that the list of suspects indicated therein did not mention his father-in-law’s clients, pointing out that “the words ‘among others’ had been written for a reason.

It was argued that the fact that, as part of the decree denying the third request for recusal, the magistrate referred to the Valletta incident involving his stepfather – calling it a “spontaneous incident” – showed a prejudice as to the nature of the incident before having heard either party testify. “The entirely reasonable suspicion must arise that Magistrate Lia had privately consulted with her father-in-law about this incident,” the application reads, arguing that this suspicion, on its own, was grounds for recusal.

Lawyer’s former clients include Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri

As well as being Joseph Muscat’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia had also been the disgraced lawyer for former minister Konrad Mizzi in a series of defamation cases that Mizzi had filed for allegations of money laundering by the through offshore corporate structures.

Repubblika said it was a “well-known fact” that Chinese businessman Chen Cheng – who had been the main negotiator of the deal which saw Shanghai Electric buy a stake in Enemalta – had set up a secret Panamanian company to pay bribes to Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schrmbri, “who, coincidentally, were both represented by magistrate Nadine Lia’s father-in-law”.

The Chinese businessman also reportedly held an account at Pilatus Bank. “Thus, the man suspected of having bribed the clients of the magistrate Nadine Lia’s father-in-law, held an account at the bank which is the subject of the challenge procedure filed by the Repubblika”, we read in the petition filed today.

The NGO goes on to claim that as one of the lawyer’s heirs, the magistrate also had a financial interest in his income and fortune, which was “in effect a financial partnership” between them. “Ergo, a flagrant and obstinate conflict of interest.

The Chris Cardona Connection

Another reason given by Republika to doubt the objective and subjective impartiality of the magistrate in this case was the fact that at the beginning of her legal career, the magistrate had been an employee, then a “trustee” of the former minister Chris Cardona. After the 2013 elections, Lia was hired as a legal consultant to Cardona with a salary of €60,512, and was also appointed family business regulator by Cardona.

In 2019, Repubblika won a legal battle to launch a masterful investigation into a number of ministers, including Cardona, over allegations of money laundering and corruption in the scandalous contracts offering public hospitals to the private company Vitals Global Healthcare. . Before and after Nadine Lia was appointed magistrate in 2019, Cardona hired her stepfather as a lawyer.

“Many have forgotten, but Republika has not forgotten, that the then Dr Nadine Lia participated in an election rally organized by the Labor Party in Rabat, Malta on 3 May 2017 and in her speech strongly encouraged the people to vote for the Labor Party (client of his father-in-law at the time, as he is today) and for Joseph Muscat, at the time client of his father-in-law, as he is is today.

The NGO quoted part of her speech that day, in which she appeared to attempt to dismiss the scandals that had already begun to rock Muscat’s administration as a mistake. ” Yes and so ? Without error, you will not go anywhere! Everyone makes mistakes… the question is not whether there was a mistake, but that we got there! If an error occurred, it was part of the process! Lia is quoted as saying.

She describes as a “bizarre coincidence worthy of Franz Kafka” the fact that the magistrate Lia is today obliged to be and to appear independent and impartial in the case filed by the Repubblika to initiate criminal proceedings within the framework of the Egrant inquiry, the very one that in 2017 led her to address a Labor Party rally and describe the scandal as a mistake.

The magistrate had shown an “abnormal, strange and dangerous eagerness” in her decision to reject the requests for recusal, Repubblika said, accusing her of “deliberately wanting to hide and help to forget what Repubblika had revealed under oath” , which he says led him to conclude that “the situation is frightening, unprecedented and serious”.

Repubblika asked the court to declare as a matter of urgency that Magistrate Lia’s denials of her recusal requests violated the constitutional right to a fair trial and to order that the section of the law giving the final say on recusals to the president of the court is an anachronism which violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

He also asked the court to order as a preventive measure that this constitutional case be decided before the start of the challenge procedure on October 27 or to issue an urgent interim order to the Magistrates Court, preventing magistrate Lia from holding hearings. or to give orders in the context of the challenge procedure. filed by the Republika against the police commissioner, which it says should be immediately assigned to another magistrate.

Who is Magistrate Lia?

Magistrate Nadine Lia graduated from the University of Malta as a barrister in 2004 and two years later qualified as a barrister for the courts of England and Wales. After working for a time as a member of the diplomatic corps, she worked as a barrister at the Middle Temple Inn in London.

She studied at the University of Malta, the University of Western Ontario in Canada and the University of Canterbury in Kent, UK. Lia then joined the office of the Attorney General of Malta as a prosecutor and subsequently began working as a lawyer in private practice where she also acted as a consultant in family law matters.

While still a lawyer, Lia was appointed Family Business Regulator after helping pilot the Family Business Act. For a time she also taught at the Faculty of Law of the University of Malta.