Attempting to bribe a journalist is a crime - here's why

05 November 2020

Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran offered cash to a Times of Malta journalist in exchange for “neutralising the bias in the reporting” on his client Yorgen Fenech who stands charged with conspiring to assassinate Daphne Caruana Galizia.

What happened in the meeting?

Caruana Curran offered Ivan Martin, a prominent staff reporter with the Times of Malta for several years, “two to four €500 notes” in a meeting in Valletta on Monday, 2nd November during which Charles Mercieca, another of Fenech’s lawyers, was present.

Martin rejected what Caruana Curran called a “remuneration offer”, after he informed Caruana Curran and Mercieca that he only accepts payment from the Times of Malta.

Caruana Curran and Mercieca now claim that Martin was “posing as an investigator interested in helping our client (outside his job with the Times) by way of investigation services, as well as sources and information” and that the defence were “assured that these services would help to demonstrate our client’s innocence”, allegations that Martin and the Times of Malta have clearly denied.

‘Bin Laden’ notes

500 euro notes are called “Bin Ladens” - “the banknote everybody knows exists but few, other than criminals, ever see.” The notes are overwhelmingly used in serious organised crime and by the end of 2018 every bank in the Eurozone had stopped issuing them, although they are still legal tender.

Does Malta have any laws that make bribery a criminal offence?

Bribery in the private sector is a punishable criminal offence under articles 120 (1) and 121 (1) of Malta’s criminal code.

Attempted bribery is a punishable criminal offence under article 120 (2), so that the promising, offering or giving, directly or indirectly of a bribe is classed as a criminal offence, even if the recipient does not accept the offer.

Legal precedent set within Maltese courts has established the criminal nature of bribery in the private sector. In the case Inspector Angelo Gafa (prosecuting) vs Anthony Cassar et al (2010), bribery in the private sector was considered to be a factor that contributed to undermining “trust, confidence or loyalty, which are necessary for the maintenance and development of social and economic relations.”

Can a lawyer lose their warrant for attempting to bribe someone?

Malta’s Chamber of Advocates, released a statement calling the allegations made against Fenech’s representatives “very serious.” The Chamber requested the Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators, a sub-committee of the State’s Commission for the Administration of Justice, which can remove Caruana Curran and Mercieca’s warrants to practice law, to investigate their conduct.

What needs to happen next?

The Malta Police Force has now opened an investigation into Caruana Curran. The investigation must be expedited and thorough, as the allegations against him may be indicative of further malpractice and unethical behaviour throughout the remainder of the trial.

If a lawyer is prepared to bribe a journalist on behalf of their client, they will think nothing of bribing witnesses, jurors, and members of the judiciary and police force on behalf of their client.