Lawyer Charles Mercieca – who controversially switched from the Attorney General’s Office to Yorgen Fenech’s defence team – went behind his former employer’s back to help overturn a four-year jail term imposed on a public official convicted of money laundering, PN MP Jason Azzopardi said today.
Speaking in Parliament, Azzopardi referred to the case of Francis Caruana, a Fisheries Department employee who had been jailed for four years and fined €63,000 after admitting to money laundering and fraud. He had pocketed some €32,000 from fees payable to the department on the release of imported fish.
But last week, the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera, converted his jail term into a three-year probation term.
AG’s approval required for sentence bargaining
Azzopardi said that sentence bargaining had taken place, with the Attorney General’s Office declaring last February that it was no longer insisting on an effective jail term. But lawyers within the office are required to seek the approval of the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General before reaching such agreements.
“I can reveal that the lawyer making this declaration was none other than Charles Mercieca – a trainee lawyer during this appeal,” Azzopardi said. “And let me be clear, he acted behind the Attorney General’s back.”
Mercieca a regular guest at presiding judge’s house
But Azzopardi also flagged another two issues relating to the case, including Mercieca’s links to Judge Scerri Herrera.
Mercieca, he said, was known to be a close friend of the judge’s son, and was a regular guest at her house.
The MP also revealed that while the appeal was still pending, Mercieca had in negotiations with the Fisheries Department – where Caruana had worked – to become one of its legal consultants.
Azzopardi also revealed that in spite of his inexperience, Mercieca was one of the government’s nominees to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
He noted that when Mercieca went for an interview in Luxembourg, he was immediately rejected, and that his nomination was taken as an affront. The position required “someone with proven and extensive experience in prosecution and mutual legal assistance,” which Mercieca lacks.
Mercieca’s controversial switch to the defence team of Yorgen Fenech, the Tumas Group scion accused of ordering the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, is subject to an inquiry, but the government has refused to commit to publish it. Azzopardi questioned whether it was refusing to do so because it was aware of what would be unearthed.
The Caruana Galizia family also reported Mercieca to the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which has the right to exercise discipline over advocates.