The Malta Independent 24 April 2019, Wednesday

Justice Minister fields questions in joint EP committee meeting on Daphne’s murder, corruption

Helena Grech Thursday, 25 January 2018, 09:31 Last update: about 2 years ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici today fielded several questions by EP committee members from the civil liberties and justice group (LIBE) as well as the anti-money laundering group (PANA) about the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as well as the state of the rule of law in Malta.

Earlier this year, a mission came to Malta from the EP in order to assess the rule of law following the brutal assassination on 16 October 2017.

The mission highlighted various shortcomings such as a lack of police investigations following the Panama Papers revelations, leaked Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) detailing wrongdoing by top government officials such as Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and possible kickbacks and commissions received from the Electrogas contract and the controversial citizenship-by-investment scheme.

Various MEPs from different political groups posed a number of controversial questions to Bonnici which he tried to respond to in the short time allotted.

Bonnici remarked that he is available at any time, any place to answer all questions posed.

“As a government we are intent to show the correct picture of Malta. The Malta described today is not the correct picture and we are keen to engage in dialogue”.

He said a few days after the horrendous murder, the Sunday Times of Malta commissioned a survey asking the people whether they trust the armed forces of Malta and the government, 72 per cent said yes to each question.

Asked whether people trust the police, 65 per cent said yes, while asked whether they trust the media only 52 per cent said yes.

What the minister failed to mention is that the conclusion of the survey found that almost six out of 10 people are not satisfied that laws are respected within Malta.

Bonnici said he “understands” Caruana Galizia’s children’s anger. He slammed the rule of law report saying that it did not show a true picture about Malta’s institutions and that the report relied on either out of date or incorrect recommendations.

 

Two of Caruana Galizia's children were present for this morning's debate.

Andrew Caruana Galizia urged MEPs to keep up the pressure on the Maltese government, claiming that it had “toxified” European politics. 

"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 just about my mother's murder."

"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 part the shoes of my mother," Caruana Galizia said.

Responding to a question about whether the most serious allegations were being investigated right now, Bonnici said "yes, absolutely", and point towards magisterial inquiries.

“All the main issues, stories and allegations written about by Daphne Caruana Galizia are currently being investigated by the judiciary”.

He failed to mention that it was the former opposition leader Simon Busuttil who kicked off the Panama Papers inquiries and the inquiry into kickbacks or commissions received by high level government officials.

He went on to say it was the Prime Minister himself who launched the magisterial inquiry into allegations surrounding him and his wife, however he did not say that the Prime Minister himself is trying to block a judicial investigation into the Panama Papers revelations.

Responding to criticism about whistleblower legislation, Bonnici said that it is not correct to say that the government must decide whether to grant whistleblower status to former FIAU investigator Jonathan Ferris.

He said the law simply states as soon as you disclose the information automatic protection is granted. He went on to say that Ferris is seeking protection through the whistleblower act in order to avoid prosecution from breaching FIAU secrecy laws.

Controversy has arisen at the need for Ferris (above) to disclose information to the government before being granted protection when the information itself relates to alleged corruption at the highest levels of government.

Other questions posed by MEPs relate to disgraced EU Commissioner John Dalli, and how despite him being subject to a serious anti corruption investigation at the EU level, and despite being subject to local investigations by the FIAU, he was still made a consultant to the Prime Minister.

One vocal Greens MEP, Sven Giegold, questioned how no investigations into Nexia BT, the financial intermediary which set up offshore structures for Politically Exposed Persons such as Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PMs chief-of-staff Keith Schembri. Nexia BT still has its licence to practise, is awarded government contracts and advertises its services on partly-government run outfits such as PropertyMalta and FinanceMalta.

Roberta 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”.

She continued: “Our Prime Minister’s machine spared no time in going after me, the whistle-blowers, and all the Members of the delegation, but by now they should know that we will do our duty, come what may.  Here we are standing up for the country we want, the nation we were guaranteed - speaking up for the fulfilment of the promise of Europe we fought so hard for. 

An extremely vocal Socialist & Democrat MEP Ana Gomes gave a run-down of the leaked FIAU reports and the lack of ensuing investigations.

She said that two days after the PANA committee, the material authors of the assassination have been found and placed under arrest. She hopes that they will lead to the truth about who commissioned the murder.

Gomes revealed that this morning MEPs received a communication from Pilatus Bank, at the centre of the Egrant Inc allegations surrounding the PM’s wife, Michelle Muscat. It was alleged that the Muscats used an account at Pilatus Bank to receive $1 million from one of the daughters of the Azerbaijani dictator, Ilham Aliyev.

David Casa, who is the Head of Delegation of Partit Nazzjonalista MEPs, said “Those that created the money laundering structures continue hold a licence. And the Bank that was used to launder the money remains operational. And all the while - reports from Malta’s FIAU calling for police action against these people collect dust on the Police Commissioner’s desk.”

MEP Casa asked what Minister Owen Bonnici will say during the debate. “He will tell us that his government introduced legislation on whistleblowers. But he won’t tell us that they only protect the whistleblowers that support his government. He will tell us that they introduced a law that removes prescription on corruption. But he won’t tell us that they politically captured the FIAU and the Police so his colleagues can never be prosecuted. He will tell us that they have introduced a new media law. But he won’t tell us that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assets remained frozen at the time of her assassination because of legal action by the deputy leader of his own party. He will tell us that magisterial inquiries are ongoing in Malta. But he will not tell us that the Prime Minister filed an appeal to prevent some of the most important revelations from being investigated.”

PN MEP Francis Zammit Dimech recalled that when the Maltese Prime Minister was asked by journalists whether he will be supporting this law, the Prime Minister did not reply. Moreover, the Maltese Prime Minister said that he disregard MEPs but take into account only the Prime Ministers. And this was said by a former Member of the European Parliament. Zammit Dimech said that the lack of action by the Prime Minister says a lot.

Zammit Dimech said that the recommendations of the report show that the media Malta is under threat, not only because of SLAPP but also because of political interference. He added that the recommendations of the report show that what the opposition and civil society in Malta said on the erosion of the rule of law across the whole were all true.

 

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