Council of Europe rapporteur accuses Abela of political interference after berating Caruana Galizia public inquiry

Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt says the Maltese government cannot ‘unilaterally’ decide when the Caruana Galizia inquiry will end and urges Labour exponents to stop trying to undermine the inquiry's credibility and integrity

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

Pieter Omtzigt has accused Robert Abela of “blatant political interference” over public statements expressing reservations on the Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

In a strongly-worded letter, the Council of Europe rapporteur insisted the Maltese government was the subject of the inquiry and should not try to influence it in any way.

“In this context, I note with extreme concern your recent public statement expressing ‘reservations about the way in which the inquiry is failing to keep to the terms of reference given to it’,” Omtzigt told Abela.

Earlier this week, in comments to MaltaToday, the Prime Minister expressed reservations on the Caruana Galizia inquiry and whether it was sticking to its terms of reference. Abela’s comment was followed by criticism from Labour Party exponents, including parliamentary Whip Glenn Bedingfield.

Abela gave the inquiry a one-off extension until December to conclude its work, which prompted Omtzigt at the start of this month to write to the Prime Minister with his concerns.

Omtzigt and members of the Caruana Galizia family have argued that the Prime Minister has no power to limit the independent inquiry’s term.

In his latest letter, Omtzigt said the government cannot “unilaterally” decide when it will end.

“It cannot be for the Maltese government to decide, after the inquiry has begun, that it should cease its work before the board itself determines that the terms of reference are properly fulfilled… Such a power could be used to prevent the inquiry from hearing evidence that the government does not wish it to hear. This is a violation of the inquiry’s independence, beyond any shadow of a doubt,” Omtzigt said.

He also hit out at the public criticism by Labour exponents on the inquiry’s credibility and integrity.

“This gives the impression that the government has something to hide and is willing to tolerate, condone and even defend impunity. This, risks reversing any recent progress in enhancing respect for the rule of law, which would be a dramatic setback to the rehabilitation of Malta’s international reputation. I would therefore respectfully request that you withdraw your purported limitation on the time frame for the inquiry’s work, refrain from any future adverse comment on the inquiry, and ensure that other Labour Party politicians also refrain from any such comment,” Omtzigt said.

The public inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia and includes chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

It was appointed last year after discussions between then prime minister Joseph Muscat and the Caruana Galizia family. The government was forced by the Council of Europe to set up the inquiry after a damning report on the rule of law in Malta.

The inquiry is tasked, among others to determine whether the government did enough to prevent Caruana Galizia's murder, and whether it fostered a culture of impunity that made it possible for the journalist to be killed.

Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017 in a car bomb soon after leaving her Bidnija house.