Caruana Galizia murder: Degiorgio brothers say Council of Europe report assumes their guilt

Degiorgio brothers ask courts to declare their rights were breached by Peter Omtzigt's report

Brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, two of the three men accused with murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia
Brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, two of the three men accused with murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia

George and Alfred Degiorgio are claiming that a Council of Europe report into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder has breached their right to a fair trial.

The brothers filed Constitutional proceedings this morning asking the courts to declare their fundamental right to a fair trial and their right to liberty and security were breached by Peter Omtzigt’s report.

The Council of Europe's scathing report into the rule of law in Malta and the government’s handling of the investigation into  Caruana Galizia’s murder was approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by a sizeable majority in June.

The court action is the latest in a long list of constitutional cases filed by the brothers, alleging a number of breaches of their human rights.

In an application filed in court this morning, their lawyer William Cuschieri argued that Omtzigt had written his report under the “working assumption” that they were guilty of the murder but had been acting under instructions from a third party.

The pair had been arrested together with Vincent Muscat on 4, December 2017 and arraigned the next day, charged with the journalist’s assassination. The application points out that on the day of their arrest, before they were even charged, the Prime Minister had publicly stated that he expected their case “be handled efficiently in the light of its gravity,” which had led to an “unprecedented acceleration” of their compilation of evidence.

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In the meantime the Council of Europe had appointed Pieter Omtzigt as a rapporteur to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) about the assassination and the rule of law in Malta.

Omtzigt had stated that he would proceed on the basis of three assumptions: (i)that the murder was “planned and premeditated long in advance”; (ii) that the persons ultimately responsible for Caruana Galizia’s death “were motivated by her investigative work”; and (iii) that the “three arrested suspects were most likely acting under instructions”.

Their arrest will expire in August. The report goes on to state that the Degiorgio brothers, “if not soon indicted…will have to be released without ever having given evidence in court. No one has been arrested for ordering the assassination.”

Omtzigt’s report criticised the Maltese authorities for being “unable to conduct timely proceedings even against the suspected hitmen who killed Ms Caruana Galizia, let alone whomever ordered the assassination.”

In the application filed on Friday, Cuschieri argues that Omtzigt’s statements were “clearly intended” to make the public believe that the plaintiffs were guilty of Caruana Galizia’s murder, thus breaching their presumption of innocence. He also interfered with the proceedings when he highlighted the indictment and bail timelines, he said.

The plaintiffs asked how the Prime Minister knew there was going to be a compilation of evidence when the accused had not even been interrogated and how he was permitted to put pressure on the courts to handle it efficiently. This showed that the case against the brothers was prejudiced from the very beginning, argued the lawyer.

“This interference is not acceptable in a democratic society,” said Cuschieri, arguing that this fact, taken together with Omtzigt’s pressure to indict the men before they are released on bail and his working assumption that they were guilty breached Articles 5(3) and article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He asked the court to declare the breaches to have taken place and to give the necessary orders to protect their rights, including the awarding of compensation.

The constitutional application comes 24 hours after Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela said the government would be abiding by the three month deadline by the Council of Europe to set up an independent inquiry into Caruana Galizia's murder.

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