in

Omtzigt backs call for Europol Joint Investigation Team

Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt called on the Maltese authorities to set up joint investigation teams to effectively tackle and look into the numerous long-standing allegations of high-level political corruption.

“Many people, myself included, were initially prepared to give Prime Minister Robert Abela the benefit of the doubt. But the persistent failure to investigate credible allegations of high-level corruption or to reform the institutions concerned has gone on for too long,” Omtzigt said in a statement.

He noted that almost a year ago, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe described six cases of alleged high-level political corruption in a resolution – namely Panama Papers scandal, the Electrogas contract, the Egrant affair, the Hillman affair, the golden passports scheme and the Vitals Global Healthcare contract.

It called on Malta to “end the prevailing climate of impunity by robustly investigating and prosecuting those suspected of being involved in or benefiting from the scandals”, Omtzigt said.

However, as the special rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe pointed out, not much changed over the years since these scandals came to light

“It is now over four years since the Financial Intelligence and Analysis Unit submitted a report on the Panama Papers to the police. It is three years since Simon Busuttil applied for magisterial inquiries, relying on leaked FIAU reports into the Hillman and ‘golden passports’ affairs,” he said.

However, none of the inquiring magistrates produced any concrete results in any of the ongoing cases. The Egrant inquiry was the only one that was concluded within 15 months but, almost two years later, the Attorney General still had not yet taken any action based on the magistrate’s recommendations.

His appeal comes just after the Maltese authorities said they would not request Europol to set up a joint investigation team to look into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, saying there already is an ongoing collaboration with the European law enforcement agency.

An established and effective cooperation tool among national investigative agencies when tackling cross border crime, Joint Investigation Teams facilitate the coordination of investigations and prosecutions conducted in parallel across several States.

Omtzigt also called out the government for the recent set of proposals it made to the Venice Commission, which in 2018 was highly critical of the system of magisterial inquiries. But the Commission’s recommendation that this function was transferred to the prosecutor’s office was not even mentioned in the government’s current reform proposals, he said.

In 2019, Greco stated that “most (if not all) files against [the most senior officials] are stuck at an early stage of criminal proceedings… This conveys a feeling in the public that senior officials benefit from total impunity for their actions”. Later that year, MONEYVAL noted, “concerns that the law enforcement authorities are currently not in a position to effectively and in a timely manner investigate and prosecute high-level and complex [money laundering] cases related to financial, bribery and corruption offences”.

It had become clear that the Maltese authorities remained “inherently incapable” of resolving these cases, due to institutional shortcomings and an apparent lack of political will.

“Since many of these cases have a cross-border dimension, I, therefore, call upon the Maltese authorities to establish Joint Investigative Teams with the competent authorities of relevant States,” Omtzigt said.

Lionel Gerada Konrad Mizzi

Konrad Mizzi appointed canvasser to top MTA post despite criminal record

Magisterial inquiry into Andreina Fenech Farrugia still open one year later