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Rule of law NGO Repubblika cried ‘victory’ twice earlier today in two separate court cases featuring disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and police commissioner Angelo Gafa’.

While Muscat suddenly discovered the importance of human rights and has been doing his utmost to remove magistrate Gabriella Vella from the hospitals deal inquiry, Gafa’ unsuccessfully tried to convince the magistrate overseeing challenge proceedings against him that his failure to prosecute former Pilatus Bank officials who were recommended for criminal action by inquiring magistrate Ian Farrugia was solely due to the attorney general’s order not to prosecute.

In a nutshell, Muscat sought magistrate Vella’s recusal from the case based on three separate claims, all of which were dismissed by the magistrate herself – he claimed that she should recuse herself because she had not requested his testimony during the magisterial inquiry, because the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry were leaked, and even went for the mother of all long shots by claiming that the magistrate herself supports Repubblika because of a pro-Repubblika Facebook post from one of her family members.

Meanwhile, the police commissioner sought to play his dice with magistrate Nadine Lia in relation to the challenge proceedings previously filed by Repubblika in his regard. After successfully rebuffing the state’s attempt at forcing Pilatus Bank proceedings to occur behind closed doors in January of this year, Repubblika has now managed to further force the authorities’ hand after magistrate Lia turned down the police commissioner’s argument that the challenge proceedings against him should be dismissed due to the nolle prosequi order issued by the attorney general.

Repubblika’s president, Robert Aquilina, had published a book about the bank which outlines the shuttered bank’s money laundering activities in forensic detail. One of the highlights of the book was the fact that the police force, in collusion with the office of the attorney general, had orchestrated what is known as a ‘nolle prosequi’ order, which effectively offers immunity from prosecution to individuals upon whom the order is bestowed.

In spite of the fact that arrest warrants for seven high-ranking Pilatus executives had been signed off by the inquiring magistrate way back in February 2021, the police force and the attorney general did not follow through with the magistrate’s explicit orders.

To date, the only individual formerly associated with Pilatus Bank who has seen the insides of a Maltese court room is Claude-Anne Sant Fournier, who was one of the bank’s anti money laundering officers. All other individuals on the list – including former Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli, and risk officer Antoniella Gauci – have been allowed to get away scot-free and are no longer in Malta.

When reached for comment following a day in court, Repubblika’s president stated that “the truth is catching up with the police commissioner”.

“I’d like to emphasise that this is entirely about the commissioner because there are plenty of decent officials within the police force who are not comfortable with his leadership. I can sincerely say – and I will testify about this if necessary – that high-ranking police officers speak to me directly about this, even police officers who are Labour Party supporters,” Aquilina said when asked to state whether today’s court case is reflective of the situation in the police corps in general.

“The situation is that the commissioner makes them ashamed of being police officers. He interferes in everything they’re doing and does not allow them to do their job properly,” he added, further criticising Gafa’ for sending his officers to defend a decision he had made himself.

In a Facebook post, criminal lawyer and former Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi, who has been representing Repubblika in practically all of its ongoing court cases, stated that none of the police inspectors who have represented the police force in this case so far were able to answer questions about why the attorney general and the police commissioner were so adamant on issuing a nolle prosequi order for Tasli and Gauci “in spite of the fact that they were still investigating them and in spite of the fact that they had previously admitted that a person being awarded a nolle prosequi order while still under investigation was unheard of”.

When giving his comments to this website, Repubblika’s president emphasised that the police commissioner had refused to react publicly to the evidence presented in Aquilina’s book. Instead, Gafa’ had claimed that he would respond in court, something which he clearly didn’t.

After the magistrate’s refusal to accept Gafa’s argument, the compilation of evidence stage will be brought to a close after Aquilina’s cross-examination is complete, meaning that the case against the police commissioner’s refusal to prosecute Pilatus’ officials is close to being brought to a conclusion more than six years after the bank itself was shut down in 2018.

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