Ministry contests claim that Egrant inquiry was awaiting clearance to hire foreign experts

Magistrate Aaron Bugeja. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Updated 12.05pm with ministry reaction

The magistrate conducting the Egrant inquiry is awaiting the Justice Department’s approval before appointing foreign IT experts to assist him, according to judicial sources, a claim which has now been contested by the ministry.

The sources said that since the inquiry conducted by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja was very complex and involved none other than the Prime Minister and his wife, it was decided that the best way to examine certain computer servers would be to use foreign expertise.

“Normally, the court chooses from among two to three local IT experts, however since this case is so sensitive, it was decided it would be best to use foreign experts. The only problem is that the costs would be exorbitant, exceeding €500,000, and the court, in this case, would need the government’s green light to proceed,” they added.

Although there is no list yet of experts from which the judiciary can choose, some judges and magistrates have often engaged the services of Martin Bajada, who was found to have a criminal record, Steven Farrugia Sacco, the son of Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco, and Kurt Mahoney, who now resides abroad.

READ: If you’re a court expert, you can practically charge what you like

Asked whether the Department of Justice had any problem in approving the engagement of foreign experts, a Justice Ministry spokesman said the appointment of court experts was the sole prerogative of the members of the judiciary, and therefore, there should be no problem. However, no indication was given of when the green light would be given.

The magisterial inquiry started late last April in the wake of allegations by blogger Daphne Caruana Galiza that the secret Panama company Egrant, opened after the 2013 election, belonged to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife.

It was also alleged that large sums of money were transferred from and to the company.

Egrant was the only company whose details emerged in the Panama Papers where the benefical owner remained unknown. The others, Tillgate and Hearn-ville, were owned by Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

Both Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Ms Muscat categorically denied ownership of Egrant.

Dr Muscat asked his lawyers to contact the Police Commissioner so that a magisterial inquiry could start.

Two additional, separate magisterial inquiries are continuing into the findings of investigations by the FIAU, the government’s anti-money-laundering agency, involving Mr Schembri, Brian Tonna of Nexia BT and Adrian Hillman, former managing director of Allied Newspapers.

Clearance was given in April – ministry

In a statement, the Justice Ministry insisted there were no issues of funding, as “incorrectly stated”.

Back in April 26, the ministry said it gave the necessary clearance to all funds needed for the magistrate to appoint any court expert, local or foreign, to assist him in the Egrant inquiry.

Also, contrary to what the article stated, the judiciary can avail itself of court experts from an existing list issued by the Justice Department. The list is made up of experts who put forward their name after an open expression of interest. However, the judiciary is also free to appoint other court experts as they deem fit, which it is doing. This ensures the independence and transparency of the judiciary, the ministry said. 

“The government reiterates that the inquiring magistrate has the full administrative support to conclude the inquiry in the shortest time possible.”

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