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12th Apr 2021

Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter

  • Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat issued his offer on Wednesday (Photo: Consilium)

Malta's leader has offered to end a posthumous libel case against a murdered journalist only if her family say she was wrong to have accused him.

"I would be ready to drop this libel case if the Caruana Galizia family make a declaration to the effect that they accept the findings of the Egrant Inquiry," Maltese prime minister Jospeh Muscat said in a letter to the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in France, which was made public on Thursday (19 September).

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  • Car bomb killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in November 2017, but mastermind of crime never identified (Photo: Continentaleurope)

Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in 2017 after accusing top government figures, including Muscat and his wife, of involvement in corruption schemes.

The Egrant Inquiry "exonerated me and my family" Muscat said, and its findings had been "made public", he added.

But in fact, the enquiry, by an independent magistrate, did not exonerate anybody because its findings had no juridical status.

The 1,500-page report and its supporting documents were also never made public, even though Malta's attorney general did disclose excerpts which showed Muscat in a good light.

And Muscat's offer amounted to "blackmail", Caruana Galizia's family said in a statement the same day.

"We will not concede to extortion by our public servants. Our position on not accepting blackmail will never change," the family said.

Muscat wrote to the Council of Europe in response to an appeal by its human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, earlier this month, to leave the slain journalist's family in peace.

There were still some 30 other active civil defamation claims against her family, Mijatovic noted.

The situation meant "her heirs could be expected to reveal information on her journalistic work and sources" in order to escape damages, he said.

It also "put unwarranted psychological and financial pressure" on her bereaved sons and husband, he added.

"The current legal provisions, which allow the passing of defamation cases to heirs ... have a chilling effect on investigative journalism," he also said.

"Continuing these claims ... raises questions regarding the Maltese authorities' commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of this horrendous crime to justice," Mijatovic said.

Muscat, in Thursday's reply, also refused to repeal the law that permits posthumous lawsuits or to help quash the other 30 open cases.

He did it on grounds that people who had been defamed had a right to clear their names even if their accuser was dead.

"The government cannot interfere in ... civil actions started by third parties and private citizens against the heirs of a deceased journalist who have accepted the inheritance [of that journalist's estate]", Muscat said.

Three men have been charged with planting and detonating the bomb which killed Caruana Galizia, but almost two years after her assassination, which shocked Europe, Maltese authorities appear to be no closer to saying who ordered it.

And the slow pace shows there is no political will in Valetta to solve the crime, her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, told EUobserver in July.

Noting that Slovak police had managed to solve a similar case in under a year, "this shows that where there is political will then the authorities are able to do this," he said.

"If they could do it in Slovakia, there's no reason why they cannot do the same in Malta," he added.

Opinion

Malta must act quickly to avoid blacklisting

Some EU member states' law-enforcement agencies are incapable of mounting even basic financial crime enquiries - especially Malta, where allegations of personal and political corruption continue to propagate, and an investigative journalist has been assassinated.

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