Justice minister Owen Bonnici gave a detailed speech in Parliament last night, in which he defended the Attorney General against calls for his resignation which have intensified since the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Rebutting criticism that Attorney General Peter Grech had abandoned his responsibilities when he failed to investigate the Panama Papers, Bonnici said the law doesn’t empower the AG to investigate, but merely to prosecute people in court following police investigations.
“The only slight investigative power the Attorney General has is to request the court to issue an investigation order – which in real terms, means he can ask the court to compile a list of the assets of a person suspected of money laundering,” Bonnici said.
“If the AG had to investigate, then he would be warned that he had no right to do so. It makes me sick to the stomach hearing such unjust criticism against Peter Grech…I would have understood it if the criticism came from people with no legal background, but not from lawyers.”
Justice minister Owen Bonnici stood up for Attorney General Peter Grech last night
Bonnici also dismissed claims the AG, in his capacity as chairman of the board of governors of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, had ignored two damning FIAU reports which implicated the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri of money laundering.
“Everyone with an iota of experience knows that boards of governors take care of internal governance issues and do not take executive decisions,” he said. “The Attorney General’s position as FIAU chairman is not a full-time job, and he only gets paid €4,000 a year for it. He wasn’t privy to the FIAU’s investigations and even if he was, the information handled by the FIAU is so sensitive that the law states that people who expose their investigations are liable to four years’ imprisonment.”
Owen Bonnici dismissed claims the police had sat on damning FIAU reports
Bonnici went on to dismiss as false warnings that the police had sat on the two FIAU reports for over a year.
“The FIAU’s job is to establish whether there is reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed. Afterwards, the police will have to establish whether there is enough proof that a crime has been committed to prosecute a person in court. If they don’t find this proof, does this mean the police commissioner is the government’s puppet or the Attorney General isn’t doing this job? If the police take action against people without proof, then that will also be a travesty of justice.”
Bonnici warned police officers and FIAU employees have been suffering in silence as a result of the Opposition’s constant unfair criticism of them.
“How would you feel if you were a police officer and had to listen to accusations the police force has become the government’s toy whenever you switch on the TV? The work the police do is impressive, and we have an obligation to motivate them, thank them and praise them.”