Malta urged to investigate high-level political corruption by collaborating with other countries

Council of Europe rapporteur, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt says Maltese authorities are ‘inherently incapable’ of tackling corruption because of institutional shortcomings and a lack of political will

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt

Updated at 5:02pm with statement from PN MP Jason Azzopardi

Malta should set up joint investigate teams with other jurisdictions to investigate high-level corruption with cross-border implications, Pieter Omtzigt said.  

The Council of Europe rapporteur said on Friday that despite Robert Abela becoming prime mnister last January, the Maltese authorities remained “inherently incapable” of tackling corruption.

Omtzigt blamed institutional shortcomings and a lack of political will for lack of progress on corruption cases flagged over the past four years, involving people in power or people close to power.

The Dutch MP was responsible for a damning report on Malta after he was appointed by the Council of Europe to probe Malta’s response to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The report eventually led to the adoption of a COE parliamentary assembly resolution that called for effective investigations into allegations of high-level political corruption.

“Almost a year ago, in Resolution 2293, the Assembly described six cases of alleged high-level political corruption – the Panama Papers, the Electrogas affair, the Egrant affair, the Hillman affair, the ‘golden passports’ affair and the Vitals Global Healthcare affair – and called on Malta to ‘end the prevailing climate of impunity by robustly investigating and prosecuting those suspected of being involved in or benefiting from the scandals’,” recalled Omtzigt.

He also noted that four years have passed since the Maltese FIAU submitted a report on the Panama Papers to the police. Three years have also elapsed since former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil sought magisterial inquiries, based on leaked FIAU reports, into the Hillman and ‘golden passports’ affairs.

“None of the inquiring magistrates have produced any concrete results in any of the ongoing cases. Only the Egrant inquiry was concluded, within 15 months; but almost two years later, the Attorney General has still taken no action on the magistrate’s recommendations,” Omtzigt said.

He added that he was initially prepared to give Prime Minister Robert Abela the benefit of the doubt. But failure to investigate allegations of high-level corruption or reform the institutions concerned has gone on for too long, he added.

“It has become clear that the Maltese authorities remain inherently incapable of resolving these cases, due to institutional shortcomings and an apparent lack of political will. Since many of these cases have a cross-border dimension, I therefore call upon the Maltese authorities to establish joint investigative teams with the competent authorities of relevant States,” Omtzigt said.

A joint investigation team is based on an agreement between competent authorities in two or more countries when there is a cross-border dimension to criminal activity.

Adrian Hillman accuses Omtzigt of trying to influence inquiry

Adrian Hillman, the former managing director at Allied Newspapers, publishers of Times of Malta, has accused Omtzigt of trying to influence an ongoing inquiry through his statements.

Hillman is the subject of one of the money laundering inquiries initiated three years ago. The inquiry was requested by then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who claimed that Hillman received €650,000 in transactions from then OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

"Pieter Omtzigt has felt the need to drag me into the political quagmire for reasons which are his own. It is ironic that in his statement he repeats the position of those who have no respect for the rule of law, while professing to be the very defender of said concept. He must be aware that he is referring to a situation, which is not even in the political domain and trying to make himself out to be judge, jury and executioner of a public lynching," Hillman said in a statement released on Friday afternoon.

He said the authorities should be allowed to conduct their affairs without "undue pressure and provocation". Hillman also questioned Omtzigt's agenda, accusing him of destroying a non-political individual.

"There is a magisterial inquiry under way, and Omtzigt is aware of this. Notwithstanding, his actions attempt to influence this very inquiry in the direction of his own personal agenda. Surely he must recognise that he is not above the rule of law and his efforts to influence are simply wrong... I am no different from any other of the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens that have gone about their affairs in a correct and appropriate manner. I am open to scrutiny, as we all are, but in his statement Pieter Omtzigt is attempting to destroy and harm a non-political individual for his own ends," Hillman said.

Opposition calls for setting up Joint Investigate Teams with other European countries

In a statement, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi said that, in light of Omtzigt's statements, the Opposition was condemning the impunity which Robert Abela was allowing to continue.

Such a situation of impunity was now leading to jobs being lost in Malta, the PN's justice spokesperson said.

"It is clear that Robert Abela's government has neither the will nor the interest to fight corruption which has taken over Malta. And, as the Nationalist Party has been warning, this is now translating into a loss of jobs."

Azzopardi said the Oppoition was publicly calling on the government to support the setting up of Joint Investigate Teams, between the Maltese authorities and other European countries, to ensure that high-level corruption is investigated fully, seriously and as soon as possible.

 "Every day that Robert Abela continue to refuse that Malta participates in such a European collaboration [...] means another days wasted in terms of restoring Malta's reputation."

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