12 November 2003

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Sealing off Cecil Pace’s fate – Mintoff lets the sword fall

A whispered message from a court marshal had already informed Cecil that his fate had been sealed by the powers that be. In October 1977, Pace is sitting in Court, surrounded by the court marshals as he is awaiting judgement by Judge Giovanni Refalo. He is given fourteen years in jail, the maximum sentence for the crimes he is convicted for.
"I was told by a court marshal that minutes before Refalo delivered his verdict, he had been in conversation with Dom Mintoff. Refalo had asked the court marshal to put him into contact with Mintoff, and overheard his conversation from another telephone which he used to phone Mintoff. The marshal told me that Refalo had told Mintoff that he had arrived to sentence me and that he could not give me more than 14 years imprisonment.
"Mintoff told him, ‘He’ll have to do all of them’. Refalo told Mintoff that I would eventually be eligible for some pardon, or good conduct. Mintoff must have shrugged, when he said that ‘he would see about that’. When Refalo asked him what he would do with the fact that I had already been detained and arrested for five full years between October 1972 and October 1977, Mintoff answered, ‘No. Make sure the detention is not taken into account.’ I would spend all the years up to 1985 in jail."
Welcome to Kordin
"The minute we arrived in prison, my brother Henry and I were taken to the prison director, Ronald C Theuma, to be ‘welcomed’ to our new residence. These were the first words he told us: ‘From this time onwards, you two are no longer sirs. There will be no sir, no Mr. Pace.’ I smiled at that. Theuma looked at me and asked what I had to smile about – ‘Do you know what nothing is?,’ he asked, ‘You are nothing here. What are you laughing about?’
"I told him that saying that meant that I had been someone for him to now tell me I was nothing. When I told him it was he who would never amount to anything, it marked the start of a tumultuous relationship between me and the prison authorities. A charge a day – that would be my life in prison."
Cecil Pace says the conditions in jail were horrible. Inmates were given just less than a gallon of water a day, poured into a bucket tin from a nearby well. "We spent two years queuing up for water from a well. We never had running water then. We had to drink from that water, wash ourselves and wash our clothes." Their toilet was a bucket in the cell, and they were given just one toilet roll a month. "I remember we used to tip the bucket every day into a gully. One of the prison wardens, a very cheeky character, used to laugh at me. I remember ‘accidentally’ slipping on the stairs and tipping a bucketful of faeces on the warden."
The prison was also rat-infested. Cecil tried without success to get the prison director to remedy the situation. "Eventually, an inmate and I went down to the workshop and cut some grills, stuck them onto the open drains and holes and managed to keep the vermin out."
Cecil was amazed to find out there was a dearth of literature in Kordin. The ‘library’ only had a handful of books. "I remember seeing some inmates flipping over the pages of a book. I soon realised that they were actually feeling the pages. They would run out of toilet paper, since we were only given one roll a month, so they would actually tear off the pages from books."
So Cecil got to work and started writing letters to embassies during his spare moments down at Court in between cases. Soon enough, boxes full of books from the embassies would arrive to the jail. Cecil then proceeded to archive all the books. He left jail in 1985 with a library stocked with 30,000 titles.
"I used to write a lot in jail. Letters to my wife mostly, but anything really, as long as it kept my mind working. People go crazy in prison, it is so boring. I used to write a lot of letters to my wife. Long letters. One day, during some Easter presentation, the authorities decided to give us a figolla for the day, and Ronald Theuma, the prison director was doing the presentations. His wife was also there for the presentations. When my turn arrived, she told me: ‘Oh I have been waiting to meet you Mr Pace. Those letters you write to your wife, they just break my heart.’ I was flabbergasted. Theuma used to take my letters home to his wife so she could read them."
Cecil kept on fighting for his rights whilst in prison, trying to keep his empire together as controllers hacked at his companies’ assets. Once Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici visited him in jail at eleven ‘o’ clock at night, demanding he sign a blank paper for the sale of the Pace fleet. Pace had to authorise all sales of his assets with his signature. Pace asked him what was the price KMB had asked for who wanted to buy his expansive fleet. But KMB just wanted him to sign the blank paper.
"KMB told me to sign or it would be worse for me. I told him ‘what could be worse then being here? Are you going to send me to jail? Because I’m already here, and believe me there’s enough space for you too.’
"The next day in Court, my lawyer managed to meet up with KMB to ask him what the offer was for the ships. One of them included the measly value of a couple of thousands for one of the ships to be sold to the fledgling Sea Malta. Since then, I never signed another authorisation for the sale of my assets, and the controllers made sure my assets would be removed for little, if not for nothing."
You were too powerful – Mintoff pops in to say hello to Cecil
"What’s up with you then?" Mintoff told Pace, as he stumbled in to the ward of the prisoner whilst on a visit of one of his MPs.
Pace had been admitted into hospital after having been administered three-days of medication in one single sitting by the prison wardens. A common occurrence, Pace would faint and be admitted through hospital. One day, Mintoff happened to be pacing down his corridor when he was informed that Cecil Pace was lying in bed.
"What’s up with you then?" Mintoff said as he entered into Cecil Pace’s ward.
"It looks like I am better than what you would have wished me," Pace retorted.
But Mintoff replied, "You brought it all on with your own hands."
"What do you mean?" Cecil Pace queried.
"Remember the advice you had given me on the Freeport?", Mintoff recalled. "You had told me not to give all power on the Freeport to just one person or maybe a foreign interest, because that power would be too influential on the economy… And you were in that position," Mintoff said, and departed from Cecil Pace.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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