A long-held but seldom-discussed issue of trading in influence in Malta erupted following a French TV show expose, with activists now calling for a magisterial inquiry into the claims of ministerial connections by a law firm and Paceville businessman.
However, questions have now turned to what exactly ‘trading in influence’ means, and whether anything criminal actually took place.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is trading in influence?
Trading in influence, in simple terms, is the illegal practice of using one’s influence in government or connections with persons in authority to obtain favours or preferential treatment.
While it may not technically refer to any specific act of corruption, it bears a stench of practices that de-legitimise the entire democratic process.
Malta expressly legislates for the offence in the country’s criminal code.
Article 121A clearly outlines that anyone found guilty of trading in influence is subject to a three to six-year prison sentence, while a corporate identity will be subject to a fine ranging from €20,000 to €2,000,000.
Importantly, it makes absolutely no difference whether the person actually had the ability to exert such influence or yields any sort of result, the mere suggestion of doing so is considered a criminal offence under the law.
“The offences referred to in sub-article (1) and (2) shall be complete whether or not the alleged ability to exert an improper influence existed, whether or not the influence is exerted and whether or not the supposed influence leads to the intended result,” the law reads.
This, it should be noted, also allows investigators to truly ascertain whether the claims of influence-peddling were true or false.
It is not just the police (under the Economic Crimes Unit) who have the power to investigate, with the courts also given jurisdiction over such cases. This means that a normal citizen would be able to potentially request a magisterial inquiry into the matter, as seen with Repubblika.
Is any criminal liability present?
In undercover footage, lawyers at Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates and Paceville businessman Luke Chetcuti both boasted of using ministerial connections to help push forward their respective endeavours.
Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates name-dropped both Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and junior minister Julia Farrugia Portelli when meeting prospective clients, saying that authorities would “close an eye” to buyers with a criminal record. The law firm has since lost its license to operate in the IIP scheme.
Meanwhile, Chetcuti said he spoke with government ministers to expand St George’s Bay to grant him a beach concession and outcompete a rival.
Despite both saying that the video was taken context, it appears that, according to law, the mere suggestion should have been enough to provoke the police and the courts to institute a criminal investigation.
While all cabinet members involved did not break any law and have vehemently denied any suggestion of peddling influence, an investigation into Chetcuti and Chetcuti Cauchi would also allow authorities to examine the veracity of their denials.
Luke Chetcuti and advocates at Chetcuti Cauchi are yet to have been called in for questioning or been charged with any crime so far.
Do you think any crime was committed? Comment below.