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All eyes on Strasbourg: ‘Outrageous’ situation in Malta demands action

Report by Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt scheduled for consideration and adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Wednesday.

The failings of the rule of law in Malta noted by Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt were “spot on” and raised serious concerns for all of Europe, former Socialist MEP Ana Gomes told The Shift News ahead of the report’s final adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly scheduled for Wednesday.

Former Socialist MEP Ana Gomes, who led the European Parliament cross-Party delegation investigating the rule of law in Malta, said Omtzigt’s report confirmed “what we in the European Parliament have already found out – that the rule of law in Malta is in real danger because the system puts all the control in the hands of the Prime Minister”.

Omtzigt’s report was adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights within the Council of Europe on 29 May. The report is now scheduled for consideration and final adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Wednesday.

Entitled ‘Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges’, the report notes “systemic failings” in the rule of law and democratic checks and balances in the country.

It states that Malta’s government institutions, the criminal justice system and law enforcement bodies do not comply with European standards on the rule of law.

Significant weaknesses include a lack of independence on the part of the police and other authorities and excessive power in the hands of the Prime Minister. Worse, that concentration of power has been systematically abused and reinforced.

The current state of the murder investigation is described as suffering from a “prevailing culture of impunity”. It recommends the launch of an independent public inquiry within three months – a demand made by the family in line with Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The government has denied the need for an independent public inquiry while the criminal investigation was still ongoing. Yet, it is a call also sustained by the European Parliament and supported by a number of leading international press freedom and human rights organisations that will also be gathering in Strasbourg in support of the report’s adoption.

Omtzigt lists 10 serious concerns on the investigation into the journalist’s assassination, including the fact that “no-one has been arrested for ordering the assassination and a magisterial inquiry is still ongoing with no news of its progress”.

Gomes agrees with the report’s conclusions, saying the ongoing situation was “outrageous”.

“This murder investigation is firmly controlled by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat… He can indeed control any investigation, including the one into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia,” Gomes said.

“And this is happening,” she added, “and they are preventing the investigation from going further, and it is really an outrageous situation”.

The 10 concerns listed in Omtzigt’s report include the need to recuse a series of magistrates and police officers because of conflict of interests, the removal of an inquiring magistrate, the possibility that security services may have had prior intelligence of the murder plot, the failure of the police to interrogate Economy Minister Chris Cardona as well as their failure to request evidence from German law enforcement authorities.

The concerns also refer to misleading statements by persons close to the Prime Minster, and allegations that a police officer warned the three suspects before they were arrested for planting the bomb that killed the journalist. A complaint from former Europol director Sir Rob Wainwright was also noted.

Wainwright had complained to the European Parliament in writing in April 2018 about “a lack of co-operation from the Maltese authorities in the Caruana Galizia murder case”. The Police Commissioner was quick to issue a statement saying the letter was not actually referring to the performance of the Malta police force.

Gomes says what she received in that letter was clear: “There were limitations in Europol’s investigations into the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia and there were obvious areas of the investigations which Europol told me they would have wished to pursue, but they were not allowed by the Maltese authorities”.

The Shift News contacted Wainwright for comment, but he is no longer employed by Europol and declined to comment.

Gomes insisted there was no serious attempt by the government to shed light on who ordered Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

“It is obvious they are not trying to find out who assassinated Ms Caruana Galizia… on the contrary they are trying to obfuscate everything regarding this assassination to the point that they even now deny it was an assassination,” she said, referring to government Head of Communications Kurt Farrugia objecting to the use of the word in an interview.

Farrugia had said the word “assassination” was politically loaded. But the Special Rapporteur disagreed, telling The Shift News: “I know of nobody who has an alternative explanation for this being an assassination. Car bombs on cars in peoples’ homes are not placed by mistake. They are not accidents. It was not an accident; it was a car bomb”.

Eyes are now on the plenary session scheduled for Wednesday as the report is to be considered for adoption. The Maltese government mounted a strong defence against the report in the preliminary hearing at committee level last month, but despite presenting over 40 amendments to the report they were all rejected.

Omtzigt told The Shift News he was “still hopeful” that the government would correct its piecemeal approach to implementing recommendations by the Council of Europe and use the expertise available from such international bodies.

“Neither I, nor the Legal Affairs Committee (of the Council of Europe) are enemies of Malta. On the contrary, we believe that the rule of law is a universally good thing, for both authorities and citizens,” Omtzigt said.

A panel debate by Reporters Without Borders will be held on Wednesday 26th June in Strasbourg hosting UK Bureau Director, Rebecca Vincent, director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Matthew Caruana Galizia, and The Shift News founder Caroline Muscat. The debate will be chaired by Lord Foulkes.

The Shift News will also be reporting on the outcome of the plenary session from Strasbourg, including interviews with key decision takers and stakeholders. 

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