Prime Minister Robert Abela’s insistence on imposing a term limit on the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry has received a fiery response from the Council of Europe rapporteur who ordered its introduction, getting lambasted for political interference in the procedure.
“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”.”
“The prime minister of a government that is subject to inquiry should not seek either to determine the scope of that inquiry or to question its propriety. This is a blatant political interference with its work.”
“Less than a year after your predecessor belatedly agreed to establish the ‘independent public inquiry’, you and other leading members of the governing party seem to be engaged in a concerted attack on its 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,” Pieter Omtzigt wrote.
Omztigt was clear that Abela was “misquoting” the terms of reference to impose the time limit. Including the word ‘endeavour’ on the nine-month limit in the inquiry was aimed at providing a flexible time frame, Omtzigt said.
“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,” he continued.
Omzigt also noted a “fundamental contradiction” in Abela’s position, who he said is yet to clarify the legal basis for the December deadline.
“The inquiry has proceeded with remarkable efficiency, despite the intervening Covid-19 crisis – and above all, when compared with proceedings on related matters within the criminal justice system, whether conducted by the courts, inquiring magistrates, Attorney General, or police,” he said.
Abela’s claim that the Caruana Galizia family agreed to term limit was also rubbished by Omzigt, who he noted immediately objected upon hearing the news.
There were other areas of major concern for Omtzigt, namely Glen Bedingfield’s “outrageous attack” on the inquiry, especially given his own role in “orchestrating public hostility against Ms Caruana Galizia and her family”.
The Attorney General’s refusal to publish the report of a magisterial inquiry into corruption involving high public officials, despite recent precedent, was also an issue, he said.
“This underlines the importance of the inquiry as a means of casting public light on a dark period in Malta’s recent history,” Omtzigt concluded.
Omztigt urged Abela to reconsider his position. It remains to be seen how the Prime Minister will respond.
Letter to Prime Minister of Malta @RobertAbela_MT on his decision to set a time limit to the public inquiry int the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
(The government is object of the inquiry) pic.twitter.com/KVIQRkhzJr
— Pieter Omtzigt (@PieterOmtzigt) September 18, 2020
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