The only important thing now is closure

To many, there is more at stake in the outcome of this case than justice for the Caruana Galizia family, or even the pursuit of truth for its own sake. There is a real danger that the investigation may become too clouded by political considerations

7 December 2017, 7:56am
Monday’s dramatic arrest of 10 suspects over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia last October marks a very welcome development in a case that has both distressed but also divided the nation.

It is naturally too early to determine whether this breakthrough will bring about full closure in this case. Nonetheless, at this juncture it was important for the general public to be reassured that (as the Prime Minister repeated in his press conference) ‘no stone was being left unturned’ to solve this crime.

So without prejudging the innocence or guilt of the 10 suspects – only three of whom have so far been charged – it would not be amiss to extend congratulations to a much-beleaguered Malta Police Force on this partial success.

All the same, we must tread with extreme caution at this delicate phase. Not just because it is clearly premature to declare the case ‘solved’... but also because the case itself is (very regrettable) deeply mired in Malta’s prevailing culture of political animosity.

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Antonio di Pietro may well have been nearer the mark than intended, when he specified that this is a ‘murder case unlike any other’. In general terms, the murder of a journalist automatically implies a broader crime than the homicide in itself, because it also sends out a chilling message to society in general. And it is not a message that any society can take lying down.

But there is another sense in which his crime is ‘unique’ (for want of a better word). Caruana Galizia herself was a controversial figure locally, and her murder took place against the backdrop of suspicions regarding corruption and maladministration on the part of the present government. It also happened at a point when the victim had started a series of investigative blogs targeting the new leader of the Nationalist Party. Neither fact may have any bearing on her murder, but both have undeniably influenced public opinion; with the result that, investigations into this murder have pre-emptively been tinged with all sorts of political implications.

Sadly, to many people there is more at stake in the outcome of this case than justice for the Caruana Galizia family, or even the pursuit of the truth for its own sake. Both sides of the political divide are acting as if they had a direct stake in the proceedings. There is therefore a very real danger that the investigation may become too clouded by political considerations to ever reach a clear, unequivocal conclusion... leaving us to face a worst-case scenario whereby Caruana Galizia’s murder is added to Malta’s other unsolved ‘political crimes’... with potentially dangerous consequences for stability and national peace of mind.

This is regrettable because, by any standard, the only common interest here should be to ensure that the whole truth comes to light. Other considerations... such as, whether previous criticism of the Police Commissioner has been vindicated or proven wrong... should, at this stage, be irrelevant.

The same could be said for the entirely unnecessary controversy that arose when Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressed a press conference instead of the Police Commissioner. As the Law Faculty Dean Prof. Aquilina put it, there is absolutely no protocol governing such matters in Malta’s legal infrastructure. To argue whether Muscat was correct in announcing the arrests is a case of splitting hairs. The only important question is whether his intervention could have prejudged the trial itself, which doesn’t seem to have been the case.

These interludes aside, Monday’s development also raises a few ancillary questions. As already stated, the police are to be commended for having come so far in their investigation in such a short time. It must, however, be remembered that this is not the usual case with similar murder investigations. The other four car bombings this year alone remain unsolved... as do several other cases, going back several years.

It may seem unfair to bring this up now, in light of the police’s recent success. But it is also important, as it underscores the possibility that the public pressure mounted on the police, in this instance, may have made a difference.

To this, one must add the observation that the Maltese police had outside help, in the form of some of the world’s most reputable investigative bureaux. This does not diminish the local police’s efforts: it is simply a reflection that, on a logistical/technical/operational level, our law and order facilities are still far from the standards we associate with Scotland Yard or the FBI.

Clearly, this is not the police’s fault... but neither is it something we should be complacent about. It would be unfortunate to have to conclude that certain murders can only be solved with outside help... when in most cases, outside help is not requested.

Naturally, one does not expect Malta’s police force to achieve those standards overnight. But the events of this year should call upon us to reflect that this is also an area in which we need to invest heavily in future.

Meanwhile, however, all efforts should now be focused on ensuring that the judicial process kick-started on Monday will truly bring closure to this sad and gloomy chapter of our history.