Attorney General Peter Grech has refused to be brought into the debate over state-prosecutor-turned-criminal-lawyer Charles Mercieca and the accusations being levelled against him by MP Jason Azzopardi.
Azzopardi on Tuesday claimed Mercieca had gone behind his boss’s back to help a Fisheries department official found guilty of money laundering and fraud to have his four-year prison sentence reduced to three years probation. The appeals decision was taken last week by Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera, who Azzopardi claimed regularly hosted Mercieca at her home as he was close friends with her son.
The PN MP said Mercieca had a duty to consult his superiors before making submissions to the court in which he said he did not insist on jail time. However, the young lawyer said otherwise.
“This was solely my responsibility as is standard practice, and I was not in any way expected to refer or consult the Attorney General. The allegation that I went behind the Attorney General’s back is therefore completely unfounded,” Mercieca said recently.
Asked to give his opinion on the matter, the Attorney General told Lovin Malta: “The parties to this debate have their own views. I do not consider it to be in the interests of the criminal justice system for me to indulge in discussion of internal prosecution service matters outside the Office.”
The AG has therefore not confirmed or denied that a lawyer in the AG’s office requires consent for such matters, leaving observers none the wiser.
Mercieca has said his representations regarding punishment were made in open court and were based on valid considerations; among which was a social inquiry report prepared by a probation officer. The inquiry advised against a prison sentence being given to “an elderly man who had incidentally repaid the amount of money complained of and was given a combined penalty of €100,000”, Mercieca said.
In her judgment, Scerri Herrera pointed out that the guilty party, Francis Caruana, 60, had a clean conduct, had found a stable job, had admitted and cooperated with the investigation, refunded €32,000 to the fisheries department. She also said that putting him in prison would not help him pay his dues.
Mercieca, a recent graduate and son of former Labour MP Franco Mercieca, generated controversy after resigning from his position in the Office of the Attorney General on 5th May, only to appear in court the next morning on behalf of Yorgen Fenech, alongside lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran. Fenech is the Tumas Group businessman charged with conspiring to assassinate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Mercieca’s career move has seized the headlines and resulted in a number of calls for inquiries. The Justice Ministry has appointed an independent inquiry into Mercieca’s move from the AG. Azzopardi has called upon the Commission for the Administration of Justice to investigate Mercieca’s actions in the appeals case. He did not file an official report.
Labour MP Glen Bedingfield has called for an inquiry into possible leaks from the AG’s office to Azzopardi. And Mercieca has pledged to report Azzopardi to the authorities for Azzopardi’s “character assassination campaign”.
The Caruana case dates back to 2014 when he worked at the Fisheries Department. Instead of stopping bribery as was his duty as a public official, Caruana was found guilty of exploiting his position for a period of years, laundering some €32,000 and misappropriating for his personal profit, or for other persons, the sum of more than €2,329 to the detriment of the Government.