Updated to include debate at the European Parliament
MEPs from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) have voiced their concerns about the “impunity afforded” to former prime minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former Minister Konrad Mizzi as one of their main conclusions in the report following their recent rule of law mission in Malta.
In the report, published on Monday, the committee said that the three “remain unprosecuted for serious and substantiated evidence of corruption, including through NAO and FIAU reports and evidence published by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia”.
The mission, conducted by six MEPS and headed by MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld in May investigated what progress has been made with regards to investigations, reforms and court proceedings following the assassination.
The report explains how, during the committee’s meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela, Abela “reassured the delegation that there had been consequences of the Panama Papers, namely dismissals at high levels.”
This jarred with the Committee’s meeting with journalists in Malta, who expressed an unwillingness by the government to follow up on the findings of investigative journalists, “As an example, there was no investigation or prosecution on the Panama Papers,” they said.
Throughout its mission, the Committee also noticed the “slow progress in the follow up” of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, specifically referring to the process of implementation of the recommendations by the public inquiry. With regards to the ongoing judicial proceedings, the committee called for finalising the investigation into the core motives behind the murder and closing the proceedings “as fast as possible”.
They also reiterated the “urgent need” to quicken the pace of necessary legislative reforms, echoing the concerns they had voiced in a press conference following their mission where one of the MEPs, Italian MEP Franco Roberti, had said they had the impression that the reforms done in Malta were done “because Malta couldn’t not do it”.
The committee also expressed concern at the “persistent” obstacles to media freedom and pluralism that “need to be addressed”. These included access to information requests from the government and “potentially discriminatory” funding of media outlets.
According to the report, the delegation expressed dissatisfaction with Abela for “excluding some media outlets from government press conferences and about the slow treatments of the access to information requests.” Yet these were refuted by Abela.
The committee also “acknowledged that the government brought forward a proposal for an anti-SLAPP law, but at the same time deplored that journalists, as well as family members of the late Daphne Caruana Galizia, are currently still targets of such frivolous lawsuits, and reiterates its urgent call to drop the cases,” the conclusions state.
The report also reiterates the “major concern” with the Maltese Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, reiterating its call for an “immediate ban of the programme”.
The committee “regretted that the concerns presented by the delegation were not met by the government, which signalled that the CBI programme would continue unless there is a prohibitive ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice,” it said.
The committee welcomed reforms done so far with regards to the Attorney General’s office and prosecuting offices, as well as the efforts of the FIAU. It stressed, “It is essential that high profile financial and economic crimes, especially corruption and money laundering, be prosecuted rigorously”.
Echoing concerns of previous rule of law missions to Malta, the committee also highlighted its concern about the alleged debts accumulated by Malta’s two main political parties, the lack of transparency on part financing and the need for more effort to separate powers. It questioned the practice of part-time parliament and proposed to “constantly monitor” any progress made by the Maltese institutions and to repeat the mission within the coming year.
‘Tangible reforms needed’
Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld who led the LIBE delegation to Malta earlier this year underscored that the culture of impunity must end not with reforms on paper but with tangible reforms put into practice to show the people of Malta that there is real justice.
On Wednesday evening in’t Veld was presenting the Committee’s Monitoring Group on Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (DRFMG) report to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
In her comments, the leader of the mission acknowledged that a lot had been done and that the reform processes have been set in motion, specifying that the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the inquiry’s recommendations are a “main driver” for reforms.
The Dutch MEP however noted that while there were many positive steps, there was a lot more work that needed to be done. In line with some of the key points in the report, in’t Veld recognised and praised the reforms in Malta’s judiciary but noted that the judiciary still lacks the necessary capacity to speed up proceedings and lamented the fact that judicial proceedings in Malta simply take too long.
Another important point that was mentioned during the presentation was that the Committee felt that calls for an anti-mafia or anti-racketeering bill “deserve support, not derision” and that the strong polarisation within Malta’s parliament and “winner takes all” system in Malta make it difficult for any opposition to take on any significant role.
Prior to her closing remarks, the MEP also noted that the deadline for the report by the ‘media experts committee’ set up by Prime Minister Robert Abela has expired and that the EU monitoring group is still awaiting the outcome.
On October 16, it will be 5 years since the murder of #DaphneCaruanaGalizia. Today @ 17:45, the European Parliament #RuleOfLaw Monitoring Group will present its report on Malta following its May Mission. You can watch here (see civil liberties): https://t.co/lrDKpImGD5 (thread) pic.twitter.com/SjijVL0hJ8
— Tom Gibson (@at_tgibson) July 13, 2022
Reacting to the publication of the LIBE Committee’s report, Tom Gibson from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted that in October this year, it will have been five years since Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered and that the fight for justice has been “unacceptably long” and highlighting that the continued scrutiny of MEPs of the situation in Malta is more essential than ever.