Magistrate accuses prosecutors of ‘undermining judicial process’

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech refuses a request for a long adjournment by the prosecutors in the Pilatus Bank money laundering case as she criticises them for taking their time to summon witnesses


Wednesday was Groundhog day in court, as the money laundering case against Pilatus Bank and its MLRO continued with another short sitting – the latest in a string of at least three where the prosecution failed to bring enough witnesses to fill the allotted time.

Yesterday’s summonsed witnesses only confirmed documents that were already in the court’s possession, having been gathered during the magisterial inquiry.

As has happened in every recent sitting in this case, the prosecuting lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General once again earned themselves a rebuke from the court because only three witnesses, of little to no import, had been called to testify, despite the court having allocated two hours for the prosecution to exhibit all of its remaining evidence.

After the witnesses finished giving their evidence, which was mainly administrative in nature, prosecutor Ramon Bonett Sladden asked the court for a long adjournment, in order to allow the prosecution to identify whether there were any further witnesses whose evidence it needed.

“Careful what you wish for,” replied the magistrate. “We aren’t playing games: we have people struck by freezing orders.”

Defence lawyer Stefano Filletti told the court that there were certain witnesses which the AG was obliged to summon but had not. The lawyer reminded the prosecution that its role was to bring “all evidence for and against the accused.”

One of those witnesses was Pilatus Bank’s Risk Manager, Antoniella Gauci, who lived in Malta and who was not subject to criminal proceedings. Gauci’s name cropped up in a lot of the correspondence, Filletti said. Despite this, however, she had not been asked to testify so far. This in addition to other directors abroad who have arrest warrants issued against them and who are therefore unlikely to testify, added the lawyer.

“The prosecution cannot continue to be managed in this manner,” remarked the magistrate, the exasperation clear in her voice. “It is not befitting your Office [that the court has] to force the prosecution to bring witnesses for and against the accused. If you want a long adjournment you must justify it.”

“It’s not on to have a prosecution dealt with in this way. This is not a prosecution… this practice of yours that every time [a witness deposes] you squeeze the testimony to find more witnesses to testify. You’re not David Copperfield, pulling rabbits out of hats!”

The court asked Bonnett Sladden how long he envisaged was needed to fill the next sitting. “An hour and a half,” replied the prosecutor.

Glancing at his notes, Filletti observed that it was the third time that one of today’s witnesses had testified. “Don’t forget that after this, there is an interminable queue for the trial to be appointed,” he said.

The magistrate demanded an explanation as to why the prosecution had once again failed to bring the remaining witnesses to court today. “You cannot take this lightly! You are undermining the judicial process which must be completed within a reasonable time. It is a disgrace, a disgrace!”

The request for a long adjournment was refused.

“It is you who are bringing this situation upon the court. Never, not as a prosecutor nor as a magistrate have I ever had to take these measures. I’m imploring you to look at the bigger picture,” the magistrate said.

It made no sense to continue drip feeding witnesses to the court with the inquiry already complete, said the magistrate.

“The evidence is already there. This will take years. Have some pride, if you believe in your own case.”

The court ordered the compilation of evidence to continue next week.

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