A spoof letter purporting to be written by magistrate Marse Ann Farrugia and countering several claims made by Prime Minister Robert Abela in a press conference on July 17 is being widely shared on Facebook.
In a press conference announcing the launch of a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia, a 20-year old construction worker who was killed under the rubble of a building collapse in December 2022, Abela rebuked the magistrate for not yet having completed her own inquiry and for extending the investigation by another 30 days.
The government initially resisted widespread calls for a public inquiry to be held, saying that the magistrate’s inquiry is enough to bring justice to the issue, and even shooting down a motion calling for a public inquiry presented by the opposition in parliament earlier this month. However, the prime minister changed tack and announced on Monday that a public inquiry will take place after all, saying that his mind was changed by the news that the magistrate had requested more time to complete her own inquiry.
The letter being shared online appears to show the magistrate denying this claim and chiding both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General for fabricating a lie and breaking confidentiality.
The letter goes on to order the Attorney General to appear in court to face accusations of contempt of court, as well as ordering an investigation into the Prime Minister for his “attempt to mislead public opinion”.
Former PN MP Frank Portelli shared the letter to his page, asking “if you cannot trust the word of the Prime Minister, who’s word can you trust?”, while others posted to say that “the magistrate has just said that Robert Abela is lying”.
Readers also wrote to Times of Malta via Facebook to ask whether the letter is genuine.
The content of the letter reflects several claims made by prominent government critics, including former PN MP Jason Azzopardi and former National Book Council chair Mark Camilleri, both of whom have publicly expressed doubts over whether the most recent extension to the public inquiry is genuine.
Readers fooled by professional tone
The letter first started being shared on Tuesday afternoon, with eagle-eyed Facebook users quickly realising that it was not genuine.
The letter is written in a professional tone of voice designed to emulate the legalese used in legal documents, easily fooling unsuspecting readers into believing it to be true.
However, readers who read the letter to its conclusion were left in no doubt as to the letter’s satirical intentions.
It had a curious reference to the Prime Minister as Prim Ministru MY Baloo III Nofs ta’ Baħar – a possible jibe at the fact that Abela left Malta on his yacht the day after government MPs shot down a motion calling for a public inquiry.
Some raised doubts over the letter’s legal claims, pointing out that its central accusation that the Prime Minister misled the public is a political, not legal, argument.
While lawyers on social media were quick to point out that the letter is a spoof, several readers, seemingly unaware of this, shared the letter to their own Facebook pages or in comments beneath Times of Malta articles, presenting it as evidence of a clash between the magistrate and the Prime Minister.
In comments to Times of Malta a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said “we have not received and are not aware of any such letter. It is a shame that an issue such as this is reduced to this level”.
Contact between members of parliament and magistrates is strictly regulated, with the judiciary code of ethics saying that members of the judiciary “shall not however communicate in private with members of the Executive on any matter connected with their duties or functions except through or after express consultation with the Senior Magistrate and/or with the Chief Justice”.
Abela has previously entered hot water after confessing to having a conversation with a magistrate about court sentencing.
While this spoof letter is not addressed directly to the Prime Minister, it would be highly unusual for an inquiring magistrate to issue or publish any correspondence along these lines.
While the letter is written in a manner that can easily fool unsuspecting readers, it is a spoof that was not written or published by the magistrate. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister also said that they are unaware of any similar letter.
This claim is therefore false, as the evidence clearly refutes the claim.
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