Omtzigt report: ‘Unsatisfactory’ progress on Malta rule of law and Council of Europe measures
10 Dec 2020

The Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, rapporteur for the Council of Europe’s resolution on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta, has decreed that Malta has failed to implement the demands of the Council’s parliamentary assembly.

Omtzigt is charged with following-up on the progress of the resolution’s implementation, which addressed Malta’s constitutional and institutional guarantees of the rule of law; allegations of high-level corruption and impunity, on which Caruana Galizia had reported; and the investigation into the murder of Caruana Galizia and prosecution of those suspected of being responsible.

In his concluding remarks, Omtzigt said Malta’s strengthening of rule of law had been “unsatisfactory overall, with mixed results.”

“The current reform package is flawed and incomplete in important respects, the government is not willing to take the urgent action necessary to correct it, and the government demonstrates no appreciation of the need for an open, inclusive and genuinely democratic reform process.

He said Malta had not “ended impunity” for high-level corruption. “Despite new laws, new officials and even a few arrests, no-one has been prosecuted – it is as simple as that.”

He added that the criminal proceedings into the Caruana Galizia assassination were extremely complicated and lengthy, without clarity and certainty. “On the contrary, there is great confusion. Several circumstances have given rise to doubts over the integrity and reliability of procedures. The public inquiry has been incredibly illuminating, but its independence has been attacked, and it will lead only to recommendations, not to verdicts.”

The CoE’s committee on legal affairs and human rights, endorsing Omtzigt’s report, called on the Maltese government to respect the public inquiry’s independence fully, and to refrain from any attempt to impose an arbitrary time-limit on its work.

Omtzigt revealed that in September 2020, he was contacted, for the second time, by Wayne Jordash QC, a British lawyer instructed by Yorgen Fenech. “Mr Jordash asked to meet me in order to discuss his claims that Mr Fenech’s right to a fair trial had been violated by prejudicial statements made by various individuals in Malta. As the substance of these claims was sub judice in Malta, I declined Mr Jordash’s invitation.”

Omtzigt had previously referred to eight situations relating to alleged high-level corruption and called on the Maltese authorities to “end the prevailing climate of impunity by robustly investigating and prosecuting those suspected of being involved in or benefitting” from them.

According to the MP, the Police Commissioner said he had been notified of the results of a magisterial inquiry into the allegations of kickbacks on which the police is following up with more investigations as instructed by the inquiring magistrate.

Four persons, including those Omtzigt refers to in his letter, have been put on police bail pending further investigations.

“Although not specified, I assume that this refers to the ‘golden passports’ affair concerning payments of €100,000 to Keith Schembri from Brian Tonna, auditor of Schembri’s companies and owner of a golden passport agency, that allegedly originated with three applicants for golden passports,” Omtzigt said.

Apart from this, the letter from the Police Commissioner states only that the police are “investigating various allegations that were put forward by Ms Daphne Caruana Galizia… there are various instances where the Malta Police is collaborating with inquiring magistrates who have been entrusted or asked to investigate certain allegations.”

The Police Commissioner further notes that the police Financial Crime Investigations Department has been reinforced under new leadership and insists that the police “will not rest until investigations into serious allegations are concluded.”

Omtzigt described the public inquiry as having produced “spectacular evidence of corruption and misconduct in public office”, when compared with the magisterial inquiries and police investigations.

The MP complained that despite revelations made in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri remained at liberty, even though he was suspected of multiple attempts to pervert the course of justice and, reportedly, accused of direct involvement in the murder plot.

“Mr Fenech testified that his relationship with Mr Schembri was ‘fraternal’. Mr [Joseph] Muscat remained in office until 13 January 2020, a crucial period for the investigation, despite allegations that multiple members of his office had engaged in suspicious activities with Mr Fenech and Mr Theuma.

“It has since emerged that in February 2019, Mr Fenech attended Mr Muscat’s birthday party and gave him bottles of wine worth thousands of euros. On other occasions, he had given him watches worth tens of thousands of euros. For much of 2019 – a period during which Mr Fenech was a suspect in the murder case and, on Mr Muscat’s instructions, under covert surveillance – Mr Fenech, Mr Schembri and Mr Muscat exchanged hundreds of messages through their own private WhatsApp group. During the same period, Mr Fenech also exchanged hundreds of WhatsApp messages with Mr Mizzi and with current minister for justice, Edward Zammit Lewis.”

By Matthew Vella, MaltaToday, 8 December 2020

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