The Council of Europe’s rapporteur on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the rule of law in Malta is demanding answers from the Attorney General over a State Prosecutor’s decision to give up his role and join main suspect Yorgen Fenech’s legal team.
Charles Mercieca, a recent graduate and public prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General, resigned from his position on 5th May, only to appear in court the next morning on behalf of Fenech.
Mercieca had told Times of Malta that he was never involved in the Yorgen Fenech case, either directly or indirectly, during his time at the AG’s office. However, Pieter Omtzigt has now written to Attorney Peter Grech looking for answers to the growing scandal.
“Merceica’s actions raise glaring issues of professional ethics and, potentially, of criminal liability. These issues will be for the responsible Maltese authorities to investigate, and I look forward to those authorities acting rapidly and decisively,” he said.
The timing of events, Omtzigt explained, indicates that Merieca was in contact with Fenech or his representatives while he was still employed within the AG’s office.
“Mr Mercieca’s public LinkedIn profile states that he only completed his legal studies two years ago. Other than as a trainee or intern, his only professional experience was in your office. This gives rise to a strong suspicion that he was only retained by Mr Fenech because of his inside knowledge of the Office of the Attorney General.”
“It is difficult to envisage what other advantages he could offer, as compared to the many established lawyers in Malta with far greater professional experience,” he said.
Meanwhile, Omtzigt said that the government’s ensuring that Mercieca did not work on the Caruana Galizia case does not exclude the possibility that he could have had access to files, documents, or other sensitive information.
“It would not be surprising if lawyers working on a case of such historical importance discussed it with colleagues whom they would assume to be trustworthy.”
“Should Charles Mercieca have useful information on the Caruana Galizia case, irreversible harm could be done to the prosecution of not only Mr Fenech but also other suspects, whether already indicted or not yet charged.”
“Immediate prophylactic action is now needed to prevent any risk of this happening, assuming it is not already too late.”
“After a period during which some progress seemed to have been made, it would be an unconscionable and unforgivable failure on the part of the Maltese authorities to allow Mr Mercieca’s disloyalty to undermine this hugely important cause.”
“More generally, his abrupt defection may also diminish public confidence in your office and its ability to ensure confidentiality,” he explained.
Omzigt revealed that the incident exposed the government’s failure to act on promises made to the Council of Europe in 2014 when authorities agreed that the issue of lawyers within the AG office joining private practice would be covered in a code of ethics.
Omtzigt sent the following questions to the AG:
-What is your view on the compatibility of Mr Mercieca’s actions with the ethical standards applicable to members of your office, bearing in mind the position of the Maltese authorities in their discussions with GRECO (see above)?
– Do the ethical standards applicable to members of your office allow them to negotiate the terms of their retention as a defence lawyer by a private client, whilst still employed by your office?
– Do the ethical standards applicable to members of your office allow them to make preparations to act on behalf of a person currently being prosecuted by your office, prior to tendering their resignation and being retained by that person? Would this be considered a conflict of interest?
– What sanctions are available in case of breach of the ethical standards applicable to members of your office? Can a former employee of your office be required to cease acting on behalf a particular client in the event of a relevant breach of ethical standards?
– Is there any possibility that Mr Mercieca had access – whether or not authorised – to any material held by or known to your office of relevance to the Caruana Galizia murder case, including but not only the prosecution of Mr Fenech?
– Is there any possibility that Mr Mercieca discussed the Caruana Galizia murder case, including but not only the prosecution of Mr Fenech, with members of your office who were directly involved in that case?
– Do you personally consider that there is any risk that Mr Mercieca’s actions, whether ethical or not, may harm your office’s prosecution of the Caruana Galizia murder case?
– What measures are available to you in order to prevent such harm from occurring? Do you envisage applying any of these measures?
Letter to AG Dr. Grech on the disturbing recent development in the case of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia:
The resignation of Charles Mercierca from the office of the AG and his appearance in court the next day as a laywer of the suspected master mind, Yorgen Fennech pic.twitter.com/giKA7koW0s
— Pieter Omtzigt (@PieterOmtzigt) May 11, 2020
Do you think Mercieca should be removed from the case? Comment below