UPDATED | MEPs assess rule of law report on Malta

MEPs from all political parties expressed deep concern on the rule of law in Malta, during a debate discussing the findings of a fact-finding mission to Malta.

Socialist MEP Ana Gomes today presented the draft mission report on Malta to the Civil Liberties Committee and members of the former Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance (PANA).

Following a fact-finding mission in Malta, Gomes said that the MEP delegation “came seriously concerned over the rule of law in Malta and left even more worried”.

Saying that the fact that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and star minister Konrad Mizzi were exposed by the Panama papers revelations could no longer be ignored, Gomes warned that “this does not only concern Malta, but it affects us all.”

Gomes said both Schembri and Mizzi were viewed as being corrupt, especially after FIAU reports had been leaked to the press. However, Gomes said, the police and the Attorney General had failed to act on these investigations these were “blocked by the government”.

Talking in the European Parliament this morning, MP MEP David Casa said “the report is clear. The issues are obvious. The main concern is of course that persons at the highest levels of government found to be involved in criminal activity remain in office today.”

Former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson and European Greens secretary-general Arnold Cassola said Malta was once again ‘disgraced’ because of tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, accountant Brian Tonna and Pilatus Bank.

These were all involved in the Panama Papers and subsequent investigations carried out by Malta’s anti-money laundering agency.

“The whole of us Maltese being shamed because of the four irresponsible idiots… A disgrace.
Our country’s reputation being smeared with mud and shit because of Joseph Muscat’s 22 month old obstinate defence of this lot,” Cassola wrote on his Facebook page.

In a plenary resolution approved in November 2017, the European Parliament demanded  that the rule of law in Malta be closely monitored,  to ensure proper law enforcement and compliance with EU rules on money laundering and banking activities.

One aspect of the resolution approved by the European Parliament which was largely overlooked in Malta is the possibility of the EU opening infringement procedures against Malta by invoking Article 7 of the EU treaty.

An EU infringement procedure based on Article 7 is one used against member countries that have committed “fundamental rights violations”.

Among other concerns, MEPs noted a failure to  investigate  serious allegations of corruption and the sale of EU citizenship through Malta’s Citizenship by Investment programme. MEPs also called for an independent international investigation into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, with the full involvement of Europol.

In his address to Parliament, Casa said that the impunity is “shocking” and that it is against this backdrop that journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017.

“The targets of Daphne’s reporting continue to hold high public office. Pilatus Bank continues to hold a license to operate in the EU. Nexia BT continues to receive government contracts,” he said.

On her part, fellow PN MEP Roberta Metsola said although the rot uncovered by the report does not represent the characteristics of the majority of the people in Malta, it underlined the urgent changes needed.

“My job here is to do my part to show that Maltese should not be characterised by those crooks with everything to lose,” she said.

Metsola, who is the European People’s Party Coordinator in the Civil Liberties Committee, said “The delegation got a very clear picture of the situation on the ground – not that we needed a delegation of MEPs to tell us that it is outrageous that the Police have refused to even investigate – let alone prosecute – accusations of corruption and money laundering by politically exposed persons and their dodgy banks; Or that whistle-blowers must be protected not harassed and targeted; Or that journalists must be free to write without being murdered; Or that this culture of impunity must end. These principles must be self-evident”.

Addressing the European Parliament, MEP Francis Zammit Dimech said that the media in Malta was under threat and pointed out that the recommendations of the report show that what was said by the opposition and civil society on the erosion of the rule of law in Malta “was entirely true.”

In his speech Zammit Dimech said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took no action on the conclusions of the European Parliament’s report on the rule of law in Malta while in contrast, the opposition and MEPs already began to take concrete steps to support the conclusions of the report by proposing legislation which would prevent companies from instituting legal cases against journalists in jurisdictions outside the European Union.

Zammit Dimech reminded MEPs that when Muscat was asked whether he will be supporting this law he did not reply.

During their visit to Malta in November MEPs met with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and members of his Government, the Chief Justice, the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General, the Financial Analysis Intelligence Unit (FIAU), the Financial Services Authority (MFSA), as well as journalists, anti-corruption activists and representatives of NGOs and banks.

Justice minister says report does not represent truth 

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici ws among those present in the debate and in a brief address to MEPs he said “this is not the correct picture of Malta.”

Making reference to a survey which showed that the majority of Maltese trust the institutions, namely the police, the army, the Attorney General and government, Bonnici said government had implemented a number of reforms, which had been ignored by the delegation.

He also said that investigations into the Caruana Galizia murder were proceeding and told MEPs “when you tell me there is no rule of law and no accountability, this is not true.”

Caruana Galizia’s son, Andrew, told the European Parliament that it was the last glimmer of hope.  “Our mother is dead but her work will continue through your work. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s none of your business. This is not about politics. We have nobody representing us in our country, at least not through the leadership of the parties. It’s about European law.

“Malta has become a place of crime, where money is laundered. It’s toxifying European politics. Malta is the backdoor in the Schengen area. There are no background checks on those buying passports. Don’t lose heart. You’re filling the shoes of my mother.”

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