Repubblika would withdraw criminal complaint if inquiry launched in migrant boat sabotage allegation

Civil society group Repubblika says it will withdraw its criminal complaint against the Armed Forces of Malta’s P52 officers if inquiry is launched by government

File photo of people rescued by the Sea-Watch 3, disembarking in Malta after an ad hoc agreement between nine EU member states, including Malta
File photo of people rescued by the Sea-Watch 3, disembarking in Malta after an ad hoc agreement between nine EU member states, including Malta

The civil society group Repubblika said on Sunday it would withdraw its criminal complaint against the Armed Forces of Malta’s P52 officers, whom they accused of sabotaging a migrant boat, if an inquiry is ordered into the matter.

The statement came after a lawyer representing the crew of the AFM patrol boat denied they had sabotaged the vessel, a claim made by the NGO Alarm Phone and reported in the New York Times.

Repubblika last week filed a criminal complaint after the boat was taken back to Libya by a commercial vessel, with five migrants confirmed dead and seven others missing. The complaint also accused Prime Minister Robert Abela and AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi.

Since then, Abela - who has shuttered Maltese ports to migrant rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean - made a scathing reaction accusing Repubblika and their lawyer Jason Azzopardi, the Nationalist MP, of having taken up more AFM resources from operating the Maltese search and rescue area.

Should such an inquiry be ordered, Repubblika said it would withdraw its criminal complaint against the P52 until all facts were established.

It said it had waited six days before filing a police report calling for an investigation. The government misrepresented this as an act of treason and of betrayal to all members of the armed forces. “This is a lie,” Repubblika said.

It said that the silence on the matter by the government and the army command combined with Sunday’s statement by the P52 crewmen’s lawyer raised the suspicion that there may have been wrongdoing which would not be uncovered if only the crewmen were investigated.

Repubblika said that it was the unbearable silence of the government and the army command that had placed undue pressure on the P52 crewmen. 

It said that, at this point, however, it saw no reason to consider revising its position about its complaint against the prime minister and the army chief for their decision not to save people in distress at sea.

Earlier in April the government decided to close the country's ports due to the COVID-19 pandemic and later accused NGOs who operate sea rescue services of "facilitating human trafficking". 

“The fact they have taken that decision is publicly known. And the fact that 12 people in another boat Malta knew of and did nothing to help rescue died at sea is also known. Only a criminal investigation can help us reach justice in this case.”

Repubblika said its appeal to the government remained the same. Lives of people in distress at sea had to be saved always.

“We call on the government to abandon its policy of refusing to save people at sea and to refuse to allow their rescuers to bring them to our shores. All lives matter,” it said.

In a statement, Repubblika insisted that the allegation of sabotaging of a migrant boat should have been investigated. “This has not happened. After a six day wait, this is what caused Repubblika to file a police report carrying the allegations in the international press for proper investigation. The government has misrepresented this as an act of treason and of betrayal to all members of the armed forces. This is a lie.”

Repubblika has insisted that the government should now order an inquiry to establish the facts. “The silence of the government and the army command combined with today’s statement by the P52 crewmen raises the suspicion that there may indeed have been wrongdoing but investigating the crewmen alone would not uncover it.”

The NGO said the tacit admission of guilt inferred from the silence since reports of the alleged incident emerged had been broken, and that it would withdraw its criminal complaint against the P52 crew if an inquiry is held.

“It was not Repubblika who put undue pressure on the P52 crewmen. It is the unbearable silence of the government and the army command that has refused to protect them and the entire army from the horrific implications of international media reports that Malta’s army sabotages boats carrying migrants.

“At this point, however, we see no reason to consider revising our position about our complaint against the prime minister and the army chief for their decision not to save people in distress at sea… Only a criminal investigation can help us reach justice in this case.”

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