The nuts and bolts of Malta’s rule of law problem

We need to give ample room to bring forth Malta’s urgent problem on police prosecutions, money laundering, unexplained wealth, and the lack of deterrence for the criminal network behind the last years’ assassinations and gangland killings

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia changed everything for Malta.

It was not just the brutal mafia-style killing of a journalist whose work on the Panama Papers – and more importantly, the crucial 17 Black connection – had turned her into the sworn enemy of a clan with business interests at the heart of Castille.

In the years before the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, the owner of 17 Black, Caruana Galizia’s murder met a few shoulder shrugs; the prospect of a “mafia state” conspiracy was a bitter pill to swallow for many, so soon after Joseph Muscat had been reconfirmed in power with such force.

For others, Caruana Galizia’s legacy was a mixed bag – not uncomfortable with her class of muck-racking journalism, but not comfortable with the shrill, anti-Labour crusade either.

Much of that, however, has been rendered inconsequential by what happened in November 2019.

The nexus between Castille and Fenech, the alleged mastermind in the assassination, but also the elements of Malta’s underworld employed to execute the murder, as claimed by State’s evidence Melvin Theuma, is what makes this the most important criminal case in Maltese history.

So the near-death of Theuma, at his own hands, raises the fear of a serious derailment of this case: one which home affairs and justice ministers Byron Camilleri and Edward Zammit Lewis must take personal interest in.

It will not suffice for the police to claim that Theuma, a chief witness who is not under arrest, requested for his privacy to be respected. Such a high value ‘pentito’ makes him an excellent cadaver for many: his presidential pardon hinges on revealing a series of crimes as well as the names of organised crime members.

And that means he cannot be treated like a normal court witness. He should have been closely protected – even from himself – at all costs.

If the Maltese police cannot understand the gravity of this man’s condition, his psychiatric care needs as well as personal security needs, but also the prospect that a few people inside Malta’s organised crime world want him dead, then this is clearly a serious problem for Malta’s prime minister to reflect on.

Theuma’s testimony mentioned a variety of names that point towards the existence of an organised crime network, and whose lesser-known associates and passive members might also be in intimate contact with high-ranking police officers.

Apart from the three men arrested in December 2019, allegedly with advance knowledge of the po

lice raid, Theuma has mentioned the Agius ‘Maksar’ brothers as alleged procurers of the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia, and a host of names with connections to former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and former minister Chris Cardona.

It is this confluence of names and connections that now raises a more serious spectre of organised criminality and, perhaps, police ineptness.

Before Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Malta shrugged its shoulders at the countless gangland deaths, disappearances and car bomb killings that seemed to have suggested that a new generation of criminals was carrying out a long-overdue ‘spring cleaning’.

This newspaper reported on the connections of some of these killings after the arrest of the Degiorgios (but Caruana Galizia had portentously asked the foreboding question: “where would it all dovetail?”). The businessman Giovann Camilleri, killed in a car bomb, had close relations with George Degiorgio ic-Ciniz; the gunned-down lawyer Carmel Chircop had loaned the More Supermarket directors an interest-free €750,000 loan – appearing in the contract was Adrian Agius: one of the men first arrested by police in December 2017 in connection with the assassination of Caruana Galizia. The same Agius brothers acquired the shares of a company they jointly owned with Terence Gialanze, just four weeks before he disappeared eight years ago.

What sort of justice exists for the family relatives of the people who died in these gangland murders? For the lack of deterrence and justice they have been denied, is after all the same that has been denied to all those who mourn Caruana Galizia, and the rest of us who realise the fearful prospect of what a police force unable to get a grip on Malta’s organised crime problem, would imply for this island.

Far from downplaying the crucial importance of Malta’s constitutional renewal and judicial reforms (crusading former Nationalist ministers who slept on the reforms before 2013 make the irony irresistible), we need to give ample room to bring forth Malta’s urgent problem on police prosecutions, money laundering, unexplained wealth, judicial delays, court inefficiencies (the muddle on the Theuma transcripts is just one of so many sorry details of the week) and the lack of deterrence for the criminal network that has presided over the last years’ assassinations and gangland killings.

Ultimately, these are the nuts and bolts of Malta’s rule of law problem.