The wait has been long, but finally, there is some tangible development in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case. The first conviction has been handed down in the murder case and eleven people were arrested this week on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering. Among them Keith Schembri, the right-hand man to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
There is reason for cautious optimism that well after three years we may know more about who masterminded the assassination and the criminal activity they tried to cover up by killing the person who exposed it.
In the past year, a process of reform has been set in motion. However, claims that the signs of progress prove that Malta’s institutions are functioning and full justice is being done are still a bit premature.
Progress is following years of inertia and inaction. Only tangible results will convince the people of Malta and the people of Europe.
It is good to stress that the interest from Europe in this particular case is not the view from an outsider. It is rather the sincere interest of a European Union that is worried about the fact that journalists were murdered within its communal borders.
Just months after Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were killed in very similar circumstances.
Malta and Slovakia are integral parts of the European family. Whatever happens in one member state happens in the Union. National institutions are also part of the European institutional fabric. We have a common responsibility to solve the problems and to bolster the institutions against corruption and crime.
The frustration felt in Europe pales in comparison to the frustration felt by the Maltese people, and especially by that of the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Their relentless energy has put pressure on the Maltese authorities. Pressure to get things moving, such as the public enquiry into the assassination. The large crowds that demanded justice were nothing short of an exercise of raw democratic power. The pressure also kept the case alive. It’s no small feat.
In three years, many tracks can be covered, and a lot of evidence erased. The public gaze has made that harder, but by no means impossible.
The window of opportunity to find not only the triggermen but also the person who ordered the assassination, gets smaller every day. There is a fine line running between opportunity and impunity, and it is up to Maltese police and judiciary to keep up the pace and finish the job.
In short, time is not on the side of justice and a lot of time has been wasted already.
This case will not survive another three years, nor should it take another three years. Many details are known, many leads are visible. One might almost say that they are public knowledge by now.
Of course, any accusation must be proven in court, but if the presumption of innocence becomes the pretence of innocence, then justice perishes.
Reforms are underway, and it is a good sign to see a government that is responsive to calls for justice. A government that is also willing to accept assistance, by working with the Venice Commission and implementing recommendations. New rules and new protocol, however, must be followed by a new culture within the institutions tasked with delivering justice.
This is the hard part, and it needs the right amount of political will.
A reformed, responsive justice system can be a lasting legacy for Malta. Bringing the person who ordered the assassination to Daphne Caruana Galizia to trial may be the first big success that cements this legacy into the future. Proof that even years of political protection and delay tactics can be overturned.
Let us not get carried away, though. It takes a long time to build trust, but it can be lost in the blink of an eye.
In Dutch, we have a saying; trust comes on foot, but it leaves on horseback. There is absolutely no room for error on the side of the Maltese authorities. Any slip-up will destroy the already feeble public confidence in the case.
Zero tolerance for corruption is what is called for. Bribery, including at high political levels, cannot go unanswered. Recurrent indications implicate a former Minister in the Caruana Galizia murder case. This must set off all alarm bells for the Maltese Government. The temporary resignation of a junior minister accused of taking various bribes may have been the right move, but it shows that the integrity standards and vetting process of political parties are woefully inadequate.
Corruption and crime can only flourish in a favourable environment.
In Malta, as well as in Slovakia and other places in the EU, corruption and crime had crept so deeply into the capillaries of politics and state bodies, that they cannot be disentangled simply by removing a few rotten apples. Implementing institutional reforms is a good step, but what is really required, is a fundamental change of political culture, including in the political parties.
There are three preconditions for change.
Firstly, put on trial the person who ordered the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Secondly, get to the bottom of why she was murdered; the corruption and crimes she was exposing. Lastly, Malta needs further reforms to make public institutions robust and immune to corruption.
The Maltese state must find catharsis in this dark chapter in its history and emerge stronger from it, as a state that can offer closure to the family of Daphne.
Sophie in’t Veld is a Dutch MEP. She headed an EU Delegation that investigated rule of law in Malta in 2019.
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