The resignation of police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, announced this morning, was met with an immediate reaction from politicians and activists who described as being long “overdue”.
Cutajar’s resignation comes less than a week after the appointment of Prime Minister Robert Abela, who promised a new commissioner once he was chosen to replace Joseph Muscat.
The resignation of Cutajar has been called for by activists since the day journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in 2017.
NGO Reporters Without Borders said they hoped Cutajar’s resignation would lead to a change which “considers threats to journalists seriously and permits proper investigations”. “His time was marked by the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017,” they said.
#Malta: RSF hopes the resignation of Lawrence Cutajar, Malta's chief of police, will lead to a change that considers threats to
journalists seriously and permits proper investigations. His time
was marked by the assassination of a journalist #DaphneCaruanaGalizia in 2017. pic.twitter.com/Mztxr7yVat
— RSF (@RSF_inter) January 17, 2020
Cutajar has been criticised frequently by civil society throughout his short-lived career which lasted three and a half years for failing to take action and investigate top government officials following the Panama Papers revelations and on reports from the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.
His failure to investigate government officials linked to the Caruana Galizia murder investigation was also criticized. Last month, protesters gathered outside the police headquarters demanding Cutajar investigated former chief-of-staff Keith Schembri and Muscat in relation to her murder.
“What are you waiting for commissioner to bring these people to justice?” activists had asked.
His resignation was announced by Abela, who was accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri, at a press conference.
Assistant Police Commissioner Carmelo Magri will be stepping in Cutajar’s role until a new commissioner is chosen by Cabinet in the coming weeks. Magri had taken on a similar role in 2016, when former police commissioner Michael Cassar was on leave.
Cutajar was the fifth police commissioner to serve in a seven-year period under the Labour government. Prior to Cutajar, Michael Cassar, Ray Zammit, Peter Paul Zammit and John Rizzo held the role of police commissioner.
Opposition Leader Adrian Delia called Cutajar a “puppet” of the government and said the next step should be for Abela to accept the Nationalist Party’s proposal for a new police commissioner to be appointed by two-thirds of parliament.
Malta had to wait all this time to change Police Commissioner who acted as puppet for @MaltaGov. @MaltaPolice should be given back the respect it deserves. @RobertAbela_MT accepting our proposal for a new Commissioner to be appointed by two-thirds of Parliament is the next step.
— Adrian Delia (@adriandeliapn) January 17, 2020
Similarly, in a tweet, former opposition leader Simon Busuttil said the new commissioner “knows what he has to do – arrest and prosecute the criminal gang that brought Malta into disrepute”. “All he has to do is perform his duty. And he can do it today,” he added.
Paul Caruana Galizia recalled how he and his family were “mocked” when his family called for Cutajar’s resignation one day after Caruana Galizia was assassinated. “Watch them fall,” he wrote.
How they mocked us when, a day after my mother was assassinated, we called for the resignations of the prime minister, police commissioner, and attorney general, and the investigation of Keith Schembri.
Watch them fall. https://t.co/tFQbDuluUL
— Paul Caruana Galizia (@pcaruanagalizia) January 17, 2020
In a public inquiry sitting last month, Paul Caruana Galizia had said that his family had felt a change in the police protection of his mother when Rizzo was no longer police commissioner after the Labour Party won the 2013 general election. “That was a break in the police protection provided to my mother,” he had said.
The government issued a statement saying that a proposal for a new mechanism for selecting the police commissioner will be submitted, which will “lead to greater scrutiny in the selection of this important position in the Police Force”.
Abela said that Cutajar decided to resign so the necessary reforms within the police force could take place under the new administration. He thanked him for his “honourable” decision and listed the arrests which took place linked with the murder of Caruana Galizia as one of these results.
Occupy Justice welcomed the “overdue” resignation of Cutajar and called on Abela to now call for the resignation of the Attorney General. “(We) look forward to the investigation into the incompetence with which he handled his responsibilities. We also hope that the PM will have the good sense to demand the resignation of the Attorney General,” they said.
Repubblika echoed the call for the resignation of the Attorney General and highlighted how civil society had been asking for Cutajar’s resignation for the past two years and three months, during which Abela was a member of parliament, and “never uttered a word to show that he agreed with us”.
While paying tribute to the “good” and “delicate” work by the police, the political interference that had taken place over the past few years and, “unfortunately, the bad behaviour of a few of the members of the police corps have allowed corruption to reign, the corrupt to evade justice and good policemen to be demotivated”.
The next commissioner should be directed solely by the necessity to identify the most competent and honest person to lead a modern and disciplined police force focused on protecting citizens.
“We cannot help thinking of how much evidence has been lost in these last 27 months and had we not had as Police Commissioner a person whose only quality appeared to have been unbridled admiration of Muscat, all the criminals involved in Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the corrupt persons who she herself brought to light would now be facing justice,” they said.