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26th Sep 2021

Malta to delay launch of EU anti-corruption prosecutor

  • Malta's former prime minister Joseph Muscat was awarded the 'most corrupt of the year 2019' award (Photo: eu2017mt/Flickr)

The European Commission may lower recruitment standards for the new EU public prosector's office - because Malta is unable to find enough suitable candidates.

Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for justice, described the situation as "extraordinary".

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Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Thursday (4 June), Reynders said Malta was unable to find enough candidates to meet the job requirements.

"We do not yet have the 27 European prosecutors in place. This is due to difficulties in finalising the Maltese list of candidates ," he said.

"As a result, we are now considering an amendment to the operating rules to the selection panel to lower the requirement to recruit from two eligible candidates ," he added, noting Malta's inability to find those that meet minimum conditions.

Known as the European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO), the Luxembourg-based institution will carry out criminal investigations into corruption, VAT fraud and theft from the EU budget.

The office will be working hand in glove with a European prosecutor from each of the 22 participating member states.

But its November launch now risks being derailed because of Malta, an island-nation that had initially refused to join the EPPO.

EU states are required to nominate at least three candidates for the post of European prosecutor to liaise with the Luxembourg-hub.

Political independence and Malta

All have done so except for Malta, which can only find two they say meet the job conditions. The conditions includes making sure their "independence is beyond doubt".

A source said Malta has qualified people but that the government is only seeking loyalists. A Maltese spokesperson said it was because not enough candidates were interested.

But initial nominations for the post have cast doubt on the government's efforts.

Among those initially put forward was Charles Mercieca, a former state prosecutor turned criminal lawyer.

Mercieca had been working for Malta's attorney general until he became a lawyer representing the suspected mastermind behind the 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Mercieca's father is also a former Labour parliamentary secretary and close to Joseph Muscat, Malta's previous prime minister who is accused of protecting an inner circle of people linked to Galizia's death.

Last year, Muscat was awarded "Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption", beating out finalists like US president Donald Trump in a nomination compiled by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

The EU has reportedly dismissed Mercieca's application for the post as European prosector.

But another reported candidate, Yvonne Farrugia, is also likely to raise fresh questions.

Farrugia is a police inspector within Malta's police economic crimes unit, described as probably the most corrupt part of the Maltese police force.

In March, Malta's current minister of foreign affairs, Evarist Bartolo, said the unit was one of "biggest problems" and "weakest links" when it comes to fighting corruption in the country.

"Unless that is beefed up and resourced with really well-qualified people of integrity, this problem will remain," he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in an interview.

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Laura Kovesi who heads the new European Public Prosecutor's Office, tasked to tackle fraud linked to VAT, money laundering, and corruption across the EU, warned she is dangerously understaffed and underfunded.

Romania abused rights of EU's top prosecutor, court finds

Romania violated the rights of its former anti-corruption chief Laura Codruta Kovesi when they fired hire. The judgement issued by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg follows a long catalogue of high-level corruption in Romania.

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Malta's new government does not look likely to turn it into a normal, law-abiding EU state any time soon, the son of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has said.

EU parliament snubs anti-corruption researchers

Transparency International carried out three separate studies on integrity, of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (representing member states). The European Parliament refused to cooperate.

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