The Malta Independent 27 June 2019, Thursday

Malta’s rule of law ‘seriously undermined’ by 'extreme' lack of checks and balances – CoE report

Albert Galea Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 10:36 Last update: about 2 months ago

Rule of law in Malta is “seriously undermined” by the “extreme weaknesses” in its system of checks and balances; a dysfunctional system which has resulted in individuals such as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna seemingly enjoy impunity under the “personal protection” of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, a draft Council of Europe report concludes.

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The report, seen by The Malta Independent, looked primarily into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, but notes that the weaknesses of the rule of law in general and the criminal justice system in particular are directly relevant to its analysis of the authorities’ response to the journalist’s brutal murder.

In fact the report, which is from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights within the Council of Europe, lists no less than ten “serious concerns” over the investigations into the murder, including the need to recuse several magistrates from various roles because of conflicts of interest; the need to remove the investigating police officer because of a conflict of interest; the failure of the authorities to request possible evidence from the German police; the failure of the police to interrogate economy minister Chris Cardona, despite claims that he had had contacts with the suspects; and the possibility that the Maltese security service may have had prior intelligence about the murder plot.

The report also raises concerns over “false claims” by the interior minister – Michael Farrugia – about progress in the investigation, and about “inflammatory and misleading” statements by persons close to the Prime Minister.

In the circumstances, the Parliamentary Assembly within the Council will call on Malta to “establish at the earliest opportunity, within three months, an independent public inquiry in order to ensure fulfilment of its obligations under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Malta must urgently implement “entirety” of Venice Commission and GRECO reform packages – report

The report notes that Malta must implement “as a matter of urgency” the reform packages as recommended by the Venice Commission and GRECO – the Group of States Against Corruption within the Council of Europe – in their entirety.

The report in fact speaks of various rule of law concerns on Malta, and quotes the opinion of the Venice Commission and GRECO who conclude that “Malta’s government institutions, criminal justice system and law enforcement bodies do not comply with European standards on the rule of law”.

“This has allowed allegations of rampant corruption to fester”, the scathing report reads.

It notes that there is “compelling” evidence that Schembri and Mizzi in particular “are involved in several serious cases of abuse of office, corruption and money laundering”, and that even that allegations against the Prime Minister himself were dismissed through “a procedure that lacked guarantees of independence, in circumstances that invite suspicion of political influence”.

“Despite certain recent steps, Malta still needs fundamental, holistic reform, including subjecting the office of Prime Minister to effective checks and balances, ensuring judicial independence and strengthening law enforcement and other rule of law bodies”, the report reads.

“A pick-and-choose approach will not achieve the necessary results”, the draft report reads.

While welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement in favour of implementing all of the Venice Commission’s recommendations, the report urges Muscat to refrain from making any further judicial appointments until the procedure has been brought in line with that which is recommended by the Commission.

The report urges Maltese law enforcement bodies to “end the prevailing climate of impunity by robustly investigating and prosecuting those suspected of being involved in or benefitting from the scandals exposed by Daphne Caruana Galizia and her colleagues” and noted that “to prevent impunity”, investigations should be launched as soon as there is credible information – such as the Panama Papers – that indications that a criminal offence may have been committed.

Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Chris Cardona refused to meet rapporteur

Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Chris Cardona all refused to meet the rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, in person and did not reply to questions which were sent to them by the same rapporteur.

The report notes that Omtzigt visited Malta between 22 and 24 October last year, wherein meeting were held with the Prime Minister and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici along with a variety of figures such as Attorney General Peter Grech, Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud, FIAU director Kenneth Farrugia, MFSA chairman John Mamo, former PN leader Simon Busuttil, and Peter Caruana Galizia – Daphne Caruana Galizia’s widower.

The report notes that Schembri was present at the meeting with Muscat and Bonnici, but having previously received no affirmative response to repeated requests to meet him, the rapporteur notes that he had not prepared specific questions for him and focused instead on the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice.

“His contribution to the conversation was minimal and uninformative”, the report said of Schembri.

The report is expected to be put to the Council of Europe’s assembly next month.


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