The Malta Independent 10 December 2019, Tuesday

Updated: Damning CoE report on rule of law in Malta approved by large majority

Wednesday, 26 June 2019, 18:39 Last update: about 7 months ago

 

A damning council Council of Europe report on the rule of law in Malta has been approved with 72 votes in favour, 18 against and 3 abstentions.

A number of amendments put forward by the Maltese government were heavily rejected.

The report says that 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.

It looks 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. It calls for an independent inquiry into the murder.

Speaking before the vote, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, the rapporteur, said the Maltese authorities had their chance to solve the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and they blew it. Effective action must be taken now while the evidence is still available, he said.

Omtzigt said the suspects have still not been indicted and, unless that happens soon, they will be released on bail. “Italy and Libya are close by and Malta has a long history of smuggling,” he said.

He mentioned the scandals “involving corruption and money laundering” by Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Brian Tonna.  “None of these crimes has been properly investigated. The Attorney General could have acted but didn’t. Schembri is still chief of staff and Konrad Mizzi is still minister. Even in Mongolia you are dismissed if you are in the Panama Papers.”

No one thinks that the suspects had a motive for killing her. Daphne never wrote about them, Omtzigt continued.

The Dutch MP said the Police Commissioner had provided little information. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, he said, had removed a magistrate from the investigation by promoting him to judge. “The judiciary are appointed by the Prime Minister in Malta. Anyone who wants to become magistrate or judge knows that they need the approval of the prime minister.”

The police commissioner, Omtzigt said, also requires the approval of the prime minister.”The PM is so clearly the centre of political power in Malta. These are the words of the Venice Commission.”

He also spoke about Assistant Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, married to a government minister, who had to step down because of his conflict of interest.

He also mentioned reports that Minister Chris Cardona had been seen with one of the murder suspects. “When Daphne reported on this, he sued her. Cardona was never interrogated by the police. An OPM official had even, at one point, suggested that Daphne’s family had a part in the murder.”

Malta’s problems are European problems, Omtzigt continued, making reference to Malta’s controversial passport sale scheme.

 

Jason Azzopardi

Jason Azzopardi, on behalf of the EPP, said that it is of moral imperative to approve the report because “I love Malta and I love the truth.” He said there will be speeches today that will say the report is anti-Malta and biased, but it is only such because it is against all those who defend institutionalised corruption and those still persecuting Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Azzopardi said that Caruana Galizia was dehumanised and terrorised for over 30 years and till just yesterday the make-shift monument in Valetta was cleared by the authorities.

Caruana Galizia was the one who revealed Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi had opened accounts in Panama, Azzopardi reminded, adding that the Prime Minister still defends them.

“Impunity reigns,” Azzopardi reiterated several times, concluding that “it is in your interest to approve the report since it concerns the rule of law in a European Country.”

 

Emmanuel Mallia

Government MP Emmanuel Mallia said that the Maltese Attorney General explained why he did not support a public inquiry into the case of Caruana Galizia. He noted that it is the criminal process and the criminal court which can punish perpetrators of the crime.

The report, he noted, referenced a newspaper saying that the German police confirmed they had not received a formal request from Malta for the data on the laptops and hard drives. Mallia said it is not known if this information is reliable.

“The criminal authority and magistrate are independent,” Mallia confirmed, saying that a criminal investigation is not paraded in public for obvious reasons.

Mallia said that the rapporteur has not explained whether he considers that an inquiry into the identification of any person who ordered this murder should now take over and take the place of a proper criminal investigation into the identification and punishment of any perpetrators, and how this would be consistent with Malta’s obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said that Omtzigt did not include in his discussion if the public inquiry should perhaps run alongside the public inquiry, having the same witnesses and evidence. Mallia asked how this could  be done without undermining the ongoing criminal investigation.

Mallia invited members to raise before the Court of Malta if Article 2 was indeed breached. Noting the very few members of the Council of Europe present in the session, he asked them to decline the adoption of the report.

 

Rosianne Cutajar

Government MP, Rosianne Cutajar, said she echoed Mallia’s concerns in the letter to the rapporteur and his dissenting opinion. She noted that one of the problems of the draft report is that there are issues that go beyond the scope.

Cutajar said that the report requests wide ranging constitutional changes that were not related to the Caruana Galizia case. One such example, she noted, is that the report notes that no appointment of judges should take place until the process is fine-tuned.

This she said, goes beyond the Venice Commission recommendations, which noted the need for a transitional method.

“One cannot be satisfied that the conclusions reached are fair and robust,” Cutajar said, explaining that the resolution contained “serious errors.”

Referring to paragraph 7.7 of the report that states that “false claims by the Minister of the Interior about the progress in the investigation,” were made, Cutajar said is not correct and claimed that the press misreported the Minister suggesting the masterminds were confirmed.

Cutajar also made reference to paragraph 6 of the report which notes that the custody time limit expires in two months, after which the three men suspected of the killing will be released. This, she notes, is also not correct as in Malta the suspects will not be released without charge, but will be released on bail.

She notes that this does not mean the criminal proceedings will be stopped and also added that the Attorney General can still file the bill of incitement so that the men may stand trial before a jury.

 

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