Corruption, Impunity and Murder…


The Malta Files

A political and institutional crisis in Malta ensued the uncovering of alleged links between government officials and the 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. According to press reports, Caruana Galizia had led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta. A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, she had been described before her death by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her assassination, the Caruana Galizia family said, was “a direct result of the collapse of the rule of law and the impunity that the state provided to the corrupt network she was reporting on”.

The European Parliament stepped in to condemn the murder. At a plenary session last October, members of the Parliament expressed their concern that, one year after the publication of an inquiry conducted by one serving judge and two retired judges, the implementation of its recommendations is “deficient’, and said they are appalled by the lack of progress in prosecuting the high-level corruption and money laundering that Caruana Galizia had been investigating, and are alarmed by the “institutional failure of law enforcement and justice”.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb as she drove away from her home on 16 October 2017. According to The Guardian, prosecutors were of the view that businessman Yorgen Fenech, who had close ties with senior government officials, masterminded the murder. The report of the inquiry, which was made public by the current Prime Minister Robert Abela, concluded that a culture of impunity was created by the highest echelons of power within the government of the time. “The tentacles of impunity then spread to other regulatory bodies and the police, leading to a collapse in the rule of law”. It was clear, the inquiry board said, that the assassination was either intrinsically or directly linked to Caruana Galizia’s investigative work.

The former prime minister Joseph Muscat resigned in December 2019 after Yorgen Fenech’s arrest. He has never been accused of any wrongdoing. Media later also revealed close links between Fenech, ministers and senior police officers. opposition leader, Bernard Grech, said in a statement that “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder was enabled by the collective inaction of Joseph Muscat’s cabinet, many of whom still hold public office.”

In their report, the judges attributed indirect responsibility to Muscat for the circumstances leading to the murder, citing his failure to act against his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the former energy minister Konrad Mizzi over their secret companies, revealed in the Panama Papers, and their alleged links to 17 Black, a secret company owned by Fenech. Decisions by Muscat had strengthened the culture of impunity in which the people Caruana Galizia wrote about operated. The judges called for immediate action to rein in and regulate the links between politicians and big business.

Do the Maltese journalist’s murder and the circumstances that led to it strike a chord? In terms of high-level corruption and the immunity from prosecution of high-ranking officials of the ruling regime, it certainly echoes the feelings expressed in the US State Department of State Report 2022 on Human Rights Practices. The Executive Summary had stated then: “The government did not always take steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Enforcement of prosecution and punishment was inconsistent and sometimes politically influenced, resulting in impunity.”

Both the culture of impunity and the gross abuses during the pandemic to fuel cronies through corrupt procurement have been largely commented upon in the local media without eliciting appropriate action by investigative agencies of which we have a plateful: the ICAC for anti-corruption and money-laundering, the MCIT and the CCID for major crimes and frauds, the FSC/FIU for financial crimes. The judicial inquiry into the suspicious death of the MSM chief agent in Constituency No 8, blasted the police for incompetent handling but it seems neither its recommendations nor the DPP’s for further lines of investigation have seen the light of day.

As for crony capitalism, the local media have reported at some length the questions raised about the proximity of large past (and perhaps future) campaign fund donors with the highest echelons of the Executive, to the extent that their pet projects find easy permits and financing loans. The cases of the demise of the two-century old Mauritius Turf Club, or the lease of building and office space from protégés in Ebene or the latest attempt to re-capture some two acres of strategically placed state lands from the Tamil community are but a few examples of crony capitalism’s benefits from the highest spheres of decision-making.

The circumstances of impunity, crony capitalism and high-level corruption leading to the murder of the Maltese investigative crusader Caruana Galizia may not evoke a definitive parallel in our local shores, but there are worrying similitudes and substantial fears of a collapse of public trust in the impartial rule of law and justice.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 4 August 2023

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