European rapporteur raises concerns about alleged failings in Daphne Caruana Galizia case
Juliette Garside – The Guardian
Daphne Caruana Galizia, pictured with her son Matthew, wrote about political corruption in Malta. Photograph: Handout
A senior European monitor has raised serious concerns about the police investigation into the killing of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Speaking to the Guardian on the second anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s death, Pieter Omtzigt, a special rapporteur for the Council of Europe, listed a catalogue of alleged failings and said he was concerned the authorities may have turned down evidence that could lead to those who commissioned the killing.
“Individual officers may be doing their best, but the approach of the police force as a whole, and of the politicians responsible for it, does not match the prime minister’s promise to leave no stone unturned,” Omtzigt said.
A member of the Dutch parliament, Omtzigt was appointed to monitor the case last year by the Council of Europe, a human rights body whose assembly consists of elected representatives from 42 states, ranging from the UK to Russia.
Caruana Galizia, known for her revelations about political corruption in Malta, was killed by a car bomb near her home on 16 October 2017. Three men accused of planting and triggering the explosive are awaiting trial. They were arrested weeks after the incident, but it is suspected the killing was ordered by individuals who are still at large.
Among the failings identified by Omtzigt is the failure so far to agree a plea deal with one of the alleged hitmen, Vincent Muscat, who has spoken to police about a supposed intermediary.
“I am concerned that the authorities may have turned down evidence that could lead to whoever ordered the murder,” Omtzigt said. “And I am also worried that neither Mr Muscat, nor his lawyer, nor others who may be concerned by this situation – including the alleged intermediary – have been provided with adequate protection.”
Over the weekend, the Times of Malta reported anonymous claims that Muscat was in discussions with the attorney general for a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. However, Muscat’s lawyers are said to be concerned he could be harmed in a revenge attack while in prison.
He is being held alongside his alleged accomplices at the Corradino correctional facility, and is reported to be in fear for his life and reluctant to eat prison food.
Omtzigt raised further concerns, including the delayed removal of a senior officer from the case despite a conflict of interest; the refusal of a copy of Caruana Galizia’s laptop from German police, who had obtained the data; a complaint by the former head of Europol about unsatisfactory cooperation from the Maltese police; and anonymous briefings to journalists about imminent breakthroughs that turned out to be false.
Meanwhile, the rapporteur’s efforts to monitor the case have led to verbal attacks from Malta’s prime minister and fears for his own safety.
On the advice of the Netherlands’ secret service, Omtzigt was accompanied by armed plain clothes officers, assigned by the Maltese authorities, when he visited the country.
A veteran investigator, he has produced reports on corruption and bribery by the Azerbaijan government and on mass surveillance by the US and other countries, but this is the first time he has required police protection.
Malta attempted in September 2018 to have Omtzigt removed as rapporteur, but this was rejected. Malta raised concerns about the politician’s handling of an investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, has used press conferences to question Omtzigt’s credibility. He described the rapporteur as having “serious credibility deficits” and of having told “lies” in relation to a previous investigation. Omtzigt rejects those claims.
Senior members of Muscat’s investigation have refused meetings requested by Omtzigt.
“Every time I ask sharp, factual questions about the case or request meetings, they refuse any answer and come up with all kinds of stories,” Omtzigt told the Guardian.
Caruana Galizia’s murder sent shockwaves across Europe and focused a spotlight on allegations by politicians in the European parliament that the rule of law has deteriorated sharply in the small Mediterranean country.
The journalist’s most significant investigations stemmed from the Panama Papers, a leak of documents from the archives of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Omtzigt said he was also concerned about the absence of any request to the Latvian authorities to produce bank account information which could relate to the case. Among Caruana Galizia’s most important investigations was the revelation that two members of Malta’s current Labour government had acquired secretive Panama registered companies soon after taking office. Material leaked from the Panama Papers suggests those companies were due to receive payments from another entity, called 17 Black, with an account at Latvia’s now defunct ABLV bank.
“Even in Mongolia, people who were exposed in the Panama Papers had to resign,” said Omtzigt. “Everywhere, people resigned. Except Malta. Malta is the only exception we can find.”
The prime minister’s office and Malta police did not respond to requests for comment.