Leaving no stone unturned

Joseph Muscat’s summoning only became possible after all the major political protagonists involved in the Panama affair had likewise either resigned, or were somehow made to step down

Last June, shortly after the appointment of Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà, this newspaper had commented editorially that: “Even if he is known to be a serious and disciplined investigator, Gafà will have to demonstrate that he has the will to go after every single person being mentioned in the Caruana Galizia case. And he can only realistically succeed, if the government gives assurance that it will not hinder the course of justice.”

From this perspective, the fact that former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has finally been called in for police questioning, over allegations originally made in November 2019, gives an indication that the new Police Commissioner intends to ‘leave no stone unturned’.

But the development also speaks volumes about the institutional paralysis that had gripped the instruments of criminal justice in this country throughout Muscat’s tenure as prime minister; and even somewhat beyond.

If nothing else, it raises the question of why the police felt they had to wait almost 10 full months, to take a course of action that should, by rights, have been sprung the very moment the allegations were made public.

This is significant in part because of the nature of the allegations themselves. In November 2019, Fenech told investigators that Muscat had asked him if his chief of staff Keith Schembri had featured in recordings secretly taken by murder middleman Melvin Theuma. Fenech claimed he assured the then prime minister that he was ‘doing his best to protect Schembri’.

Muscat had denied these claims when they were first reported: a line he has stuck to ever since, and repeated as he exited the Police Depot last Friday.

But given the implications of possible collusion, at the highest levels of government, with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, it beggars belief that such a claim – itself made under police interrogation – was not acted upon sooner.

Clearly, Muscat’s overdue interrogation had to wait for a number of other factors to be cleared up. It comes not only after the appointment of a new Police Commissioner to replace Lawrence Cutajar – under whose leadership the police had manifestly failed to investigate all possible leads – but also after the recent resignation of Attorney General Peter Grech: who was arguably caught up in the same web of influence spun by the Muscat administration.

Moreover, Muscat’s summoning only became possible after all the major political protagonists involved in the Panama affair had likewise either resigned, or were somehow made to step down.

So while undeniably a step in the right direction, this latest initiative also illustrates the sheer pervasiveness of the institutional mechanisms that were in place, until recently, to protect high-ranking political figures from having to face the course of justice.

Even so, however, the mere fact that Muscat was made to finally face police questioning – on its own – is very far from enough to dispel the lingering shadow of government interference in this case.

On this front, Angelo Gafà now has an important responsibility:  he must see to it that that many lacunae in the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation are addressed once and for all, by personally taking an interest in ensuring a thorough investigation of all people connected to the assassination.

These are not limited only to the political figures who have been implicated so far; as indeed, the responsibility itself is not limited only to this one case alone.

Even before Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Malta had for too long ignored the countless gangland deaths, disappearances and car bomb killings that seemed to have suggested that a new generation of criminals in action.

It is clear from the dramatis personae of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder that many of the names involved – including, but not limited to, the four triggermen arrested in December 2017 – had cropped up in connection to other previous unsolved crimes: and while these crimes may not necessarily be related, the unravelling of the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation may yet prove instrumental to solving them.

But Gafà may need to rope in additional muscle – including, if necessary, international agencies such as Europol – to assist the Maltese police force in renewed arrests of people at the heart of organised criminal groups in Malta. This is no small undertaking; and without any assistance from related agencies and intelligence, that targets the financial affairs of many involved in high levels of crime, Gafà may find himself fighting a lost battle.

Nonetheless, the new Police Commissioner has already done much to dispel the aura of political/criminal complicity that has undermined the Police Force’s credibility for so long.

May this mark the beginning of a new chapter in Malta’s troubled criminal justice history.