Council of Europe adopts damning report on rule of law in Malta

Report calls for an independent inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, the downsizing of the Prime Minister’s powers and urges law enforcement agencies to ‘end climate of impunity’

The Council of Europe has approved a damning report on the rule of law in Malta compiled by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt
The Council of Europe has approved a damning report on the rule of law in Malta compiled by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt

Updated at 5.30pm with government reaction to report

The Council of Europe has called on Malta to establish an independent public inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder after noting “serious concerns” over the murder investigation.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe on Wednesday approved a report compiled by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt into Caruana Galizia’s murder and the rule of law in Malta.

Omtzigt listed several concerns linked to the murder investigation, including the Maltese police’s failure to ask their German counterparts for information from Caruana Galizia’s laptop. The laptop had been consigned to the German police by the Caruana Galizia family several months after the murder.

Other serious concerns included "inflammatory and misleading statements by persons close to the Prime Minister" and the "possibility that the Maltese security service may have had prior intelligence about the murder plot".

The latter concern emerged from court testimony that revealed how one of the murder suspects had his mobile phone tapped prior to the murder as part of a separate and unrelated investigation. The Security Service and the police both had denied prior knowledge of the murder.

But quixotically, the report also listed as a serious concern the fact that two magistrates had recused themselves from hearing the compilation of evidence against three men accused of murdering the journalist because they knew the victim.

The report, which was leaked to some sections of the press last week, contains damning language, including the implication that no criminal action was taken against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri over the Panama Papers revelations because they enjoy the Prime Minister’s protection.

“The Assembly concludes that the rule of law in Malta is seriously undermined by the extreme weakness of its system of checks and balances. Noting that individuals such as Dr [Konrad] Mizzi, Mr [Keith] Schembri and Mr [Brian] Tonna seem to enjoy impunity, under the personal protection of Prime Minister Muscat… the Assembly considers that recent events in Malta illustrate the serious damage that can result from its dysfunctional system,” part of the report reads.

It argues that Malta still needs “fundamental, holistic reform”, highlighting the need to subject the office of Prime Minister to effective checks and balances.

The report takes aim at the sale of Maltese citizenship and insists, Malta could be a threat to the EU.

“Malta’s weaknesses are a source of vulnerability for all of Europe: Maltese citizenship is European Union citizenship, a Maltese visa is a Schengen visa, and a Maltese bank gives access to the European banking system. If Malta cannot or will not correct its weaknesses, European institutions must intervene,” the report insisted.

The Prime Minister had described the report as "biased" and criticised the author over his past association with a conspiracy theory over the downing of an aircraft over the Ukraine in 2014.

Report riddles with inaccurate and gratuitous statements - Maltese government 

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the government said that Omtzigt’s report as rapporteur on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was riddled with inaccurate and gratuitous statements which it said exposed a very biased agenda which was not based on the true picture of the matter. 

"The government makes it clear that the process regarding the motion originally presented in the Parliamentary Assembly by Mr Omtzigt is still ongoing and is not public. The government and government MPs respect the Council of Europe’s rules of procedure about the confidentiality of processes and meetings," the statement said.

"Unfortunately, our policy is not followed by all in the Council of Europe and an example of this was the leaking to the media of the Draft Report. The Government notes the very dubious timing of the leak, just days before the European elections. The leak was intended to create a hostile and unreceptive environment towards Malta and to pre-empt any effort to have the report discussed in any spirit of objectivity.  In fact, the report itself is a reflection of deep animosity against Malta."

"This attitude is very dangerous from a democratic point of view. International institutions cannot just pass one-sided reports against a country by sheer force of numbers.  It is clear that the Rapporteur, amongst other matters having himself previously written to the Committee of Ministers to take action against Malta and having had his request rejected, was not the best placed person to take on this role."

The government said that Omtzigt was "not new to controversy" and that "he had come under fire over claims that he helped a fake witness to the MH17 disaster over Ukraine infiltrate a briefing attended by victims’ relatives", and had subsequently "admitted to have behaved inappropriately on the matter."

"The report in fact represents the very biased views of a small fraction of Maltese Opposition politicians who appear to have kept close to the Rapporteur and who have formed alliances with various vested interest groups who, for one reason or another, have an interest in damaging Malta’s reputation and in isolating Malta from Europe," the government insisted.

"The manifest disregard for basic fairness and the barefaced manipulation of the scenario are the most worrying aspects of this episode. The Maltese Government MPs are making their case as forcefully as possible to the Parliamentary Assembly with a full report which gives a detailed picture of the extent of manipulation in the report presented to the Parliamentary Assembly."  

The government added that "unfortunately, the attempt to rush this report through without regard to basic fact-checking betrays an attitude which is far from giving a true picture of the situation in Malta."