Thursday

4th Mar 2021

EU washes hands of Malta 'assassination' probe

  • Demonstratiion in Valetta after the Panama Papers revelations in 2016 (Photo: Daphne Caruana Galizia)

The EU will be watching to see if Malta conducts a proper investigation into the murder of a leading journalist, but has no mandate to intervene.

That was the message from the European Commission on Tuesday (24 October), amid calls from MEPs for a more strident response.

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  • Timmermans: "Under the treaties, the European Commission has limited powers in this area" (Photo: European Commission)

"Malta must show to Europe and the world that its rules and regulations are healthy and robust," Commission vice president Frans Timmermans told MEPs in Strasbourg in a debate devoted to what he called the "assassination" of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta last week.

"If problems of a more general or systemic nature are brought to light, they must also be addressed, regardless of the consequences," Timmermans said.

His caveat referred to Caruana Galizia's Panama Papers-linked revelations, prior to her death, that Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat's wife and his cabinet members had secret offshore accounts.

But Timmermans added that EU institutions had little role to play in national criminal matters.

"Under the treaties, the European Commission has limited powers in this area," he said.

"It is the duty of the Maltese state to investigate and prosecute this case in accordance with its constitution and its legal order and international human rights obligations," he said.

His statement came amid calls by some MEPs for the EU to do more.

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a Spanish centre-right MEP, said on Wednesday the Commission should investigate whether Malta had effective rule of law.

Sophia in't Veld, a Dutch liberal deputy, said the EU parliament should convene a special committee to grill Maltese officials.

Eva Joly and Sven Giegold, the leaders of the Green group, also said the Commission should hold a "serious investigation" into why Muscat never took action against Caruana Galizia's revelations on money laundering.

But Timmermans' colleague, justice commissioner Vera Joureva, already ruled that out in a letter to the two MEPs on Monday, saying "there appear to be no grounds to suspect a systematic breach of Union law pertaining to the prevention of money laundering".

Conflicting narratives

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb on 16 October.

Maltese police have invited specialists from the FBI, a US law enforcement agency, from the Netherlands Forensic Institute in The Hague, and UK experts to take part in the probe.

The car bomb was the sixth one in the past 13 months in Malta - a tiny EU state that is known for oil and cigarette smuggling, for its shady online gambling industry, its offshore banking services, and for selling passports to Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Russian tycoons.

Thomas Vassallo, a scholar of public policy at the University of Malta, said the island's political parties were promoting "conflicting narratives" on who might have killed Caruana Galiza, despite the fact the police investigation was still in "the early stages".

He told EUobserver that Muscat's ruling Labour Party was saying it might "be related to organised crime, like prostitution, [or] the oil black market from Libya".

He said Labour Party-owned media had hinted that the opposition Nationalist Party "might have a hidden hand in all this" because Caruana Galizia had made fraud allegations against its leader.

Vassallo also said the Nationalist Party "immediately called this killing a political one, implying directly that those Labour politicians who were implied in the Panama Papers saga know much more than they are saying."

Vassallo added that last week's bomb was different to previous ones due to the scale of the explosion and the nature of the victim.

Like a war

"The sheer magnitude of the explosives is not comparable to the ones that we have had before … the explosion sounded like a war," he said.

He said the previous bombs were "according to the police, related to crime gangs who were settling internal conflicts," but last week's killing "was done in order to shut up and destroy a journalist - a symbol of free speech".

Saviour Formosa, a criminologist at the University of Malta, told this website the force of the blast would make it harder to find out who did it.

"The bomb itself would have destroyed most of the evidence," he said.

He said Maltese police have had "some successes" in identifying previous attackers, but he said "this kind of crime is difficult to handle no matter where you are in the world".

Amid the swirl of allegations, Formosa welcomed the British, Dutch, and FBI involvement for political rather than technical reasons.

"This will help to ensure impartiality … to ensure that no one can come out and say that this case was politically compromised," he said.

The heated life of Malta's politics

While the smallest EU state has been commended in Brussels for its smooth presidency of the Council, domestic politics are characterised by heated polarisation with accusations and insults often being traded.

Media bosses demand EU push Malta on journalist killing

In a letter to commissioner Timmermans, the directors of eight media groups ask the EU executive to use "all powers" to push the investigation into the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

MEPs point finger at Malta

The European Parliament debated shady deals and rule of law in Malta after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, while the Commission wanted to avoid a "political fight".

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

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