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It seems like it’s time to coin a new phrase for the court cases which are unfolding in the aftermath of the Vitals inquiry: nobody runs down the clock like a criminal lawyer can.

Following Tuesday’s marathon court sitting, Wednesday brought more of the same tedious legal back and forth, with an eleven hour court case eventually getting annulled by the next day following a procedural error made by the prosecuting lawyers in the attorney general’s office.

Individuals who were associated under the trade name DF Advocates – Kenneth Deguara, Kevin Deguara, and Jean Carl Farrugia – successfully managed to argue that they were technically not served with court summons since the prosecution had mistakenly listed DF Corporate Advisory Ltd in its charge sheet, a company which was set up by the same individuals after the facts of the case unfolded. The case will now have to start over from scratch in June.

Caution is advised when speculating about whether the prosecutors who are leading the charge in the biggest criminal case in Malta’s history made such a costly mistake deliberately. I, for one, do not have any direct insight into the forma mentis of lawyers who work in the attorney general’s office. It would be unwise to assume that they are all a bunch of young, inexperienced lawyers who just want to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be by undermining their own case when a successful prosecution could very well be the biggest break of their career.

What is certain is that the highest offices of the state, which for the most part have been captured and subverted by the Labour Party, are being used to cover up corruption on a scale that is difficult to fathom. Not all of the rank and file in those offices can be described as corrupt. Their bosses, however, are an entirely different matter.

First, it started with disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and the long list of his associates who are in the dock for their role in making the fraudulent hospitals concession happen. Muscat, aided and abetted by his fellow conspirators Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri and a compliant Cabinet of ministers, did whatever they could do to ensure the deal stayed in place for as long as possible, milking millions in taxpayer money in the process. They shielded it from scrutiny and denied every single investigative story that was published about it.

Corruption that is so blatant inevitably comes to light. At least one of the dozens of people who stand accused of playing a role in this whole mess must have been aware that this particular drainpipe would eventually burst and flood everyone’s hallways with excrement, which is why the Labour Party made it a point to appoint stooges in key positions way before any of this could have ever been expected to surface.

It is pertinent to remember that Angelo Gafa’ was first appointed as CEO of the police (a position that he was the first to occupy) in January 2017 before being made commissioner in June 2020. Victoria Buttigieg was first appointed as state advocate (a position that she was the first to occupy) in 2019 and then made attorney general in September 2020.

This is where the argument of deliberate sabotage really comes into play. It is extremely unlikely that every single lawyer in the attorney general’s office and every single officer in the police corps is corrupt. It is all but certain, however, that Victoria Buttigieg and Angelo Gafa’ are compromised and unwilling to fulfill their duty to enforce the law without fear or favour.

The chronic lack of high-profile political corruption cases instigated at the behest of their respective offices is indicative of what I just pointed out. The fact of the matter is that had it not been for Repubblika, we would not have managed to get our hands on the Vitals inquiry, which means we would have never gotten the ongoing court cases which Buttigieg and Gafa’ are desperately distancing themselves from.

Matters are complicated further when one considers that, after having sabotaged the state by appointing corrupt stooges and obstructing justice for as long as possible, Muscat and his allies have now turned to Malta’s most well-known criminal lawyers to wriggle their way out of a situation that is entirely of their own making. Muscat brought six of them with him to court from day one.

The snake that eats itself: the Labour government’s legal dilemma

Those criminal lawyers are doing what they do best: finding legal loopholes and slowing down the prosecution’s efforts to make all the charges stick. Once, when describing how criminal lawyers will do whatever they can to colour the narrative of the case a shade that favours their client, a veteran source told me it’s like hearing someone telling you “not that black is white or the other way around, but that black is green, or whatever other colour they need you to think it is.”

This does not excuse the fact that they are ultimately delaying the course of justice for a whole country. They can quibble all they want about how every person who is accused of a crime has a right to be presumed innocent by the court until proven guilty – in the eyes of the law, judgement is for the court to dispense. The magistrates overseeing the two interlinked criminal cases we followed earlier this week, Rachel Montebello and Leonard Caruana, have so far been reasonably cautious in their approach, and certainly do not seem interested in being accused of prejudice by a room full of Malta’s biggest legal heavyweights while the country awaits with bated breath.

Their right to be presumed innocent by the court does not extend to the mountain of evidence which everyone’s eyes and ears can see and hear. That right does not address the fact that the three hospitals in question – St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital, and Gozo’s General Hospital – remain unfit for purpose. It does not address the fact that thousands of professionals working in those hospitals are still enduring horrible working conditions for the sake of ensuring our loved ones still receive care in their hour of need.

This is by far the most disgusting aspect of this whole matter. Every single one of the accused has brought a small firm’s worth of lawyers with them to court, with Muscat in particular going on a full-frontal offensive against the judiciary by using compliant media to attack whoever stands in his way, to protest their innocence. Absolutely none of them have actually bothered to apologise to the general public, instead choosing to lie by claiming that the expert investigators who called them out on their skullduggery are unprofessional and that they always acted in the best interests of the patients who are served by these hospitals.

It is beyond obvious that the government could not care less about the fact that so many patients have missed out on high-quality care because a few dozen conspirators wanted to get filthy rich and seriously thought they could get away with such a heist without anyone doing anything about it. The way in which they act offended at the mere suggestion that Repubblika and/or the free press would dare hold them accountable is as revealing as it is infuriating to anyone with a basic sense of decency.

There is no clean break in behaviour or attitude between former members of Cabinet who had resigned in disgrace and the ones who are in charge in their stead. It is the same exact mindset, same exact rhetoric, same exact kind of banging fists on tables until we get what we want.

The only thing they are interested in is repeating the phrase “it wasn’t me” until it becomes true through transmutation, like an alchemist trying to make gold out of lead. Not one of them has bothered to apologise for defrauding a country and leaving its healthcare system stranded, because to do so would be to at least partially admit some measure of guilt. Can’t have any of that around these parts.

The serenity brigade isn’t going to go down quietly. This is going to be a messy, drawn-out fight for our future. It is going to be a criminal case that is characterised by inefficiency, non-existent equality of arms (because you cannot compare a small battalion of veteran lawyers with a handful of young prosecutors from the attorney general’s office), and plenty of delaying, delaying, delaying.

Nonetheless, even if we are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, it is a moment in our history which is worth fighting for, especially when considering how the government’s position is as precarious as it has ever been since the Labour Party swept to power in 2013.

The greatest service we can give to posterity is to clean up the mess we are presently facing.

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