The family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the investigative journalist killed by car bomb in Malta in October 2017, have raised concerns about the impartiality of the panel appointed to lead a public inquiry into her death.
The Maltese government announced a wide-ranging inquiry late on Friday, just six days before the three-month deadline set by the Council of Europe and following intense campaigning by Daphne’s family, who claim there is a widespread lack of accountability and corruption in their country, the European Union’s smallest member state.
As a result, they’ve requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat - himself a frequent target of Daphne’s investigations - stating the board of inquiry “will be unfit for purpose if the public has reason to doubt any of its wider members’ independence or impartiality”.
The commission will meet publicly, but can decide to hear witnesses’ evidence in private, and is expected to last nine months. It’s comprised of chair Michael Mallia, a retired former judge, Ian Refalo, litigator and professor of law at the University of Malta, and Dr. Anthony Abela Medici, former director of forensic science laboratories at the Malta police department. Daphne’s family support Mallia’s appointment, but claim Refalo has previously represented clients investigated by the slain journalist for money laundering, and have also expressed concerns about Medici on the basis he “depends on the Prime Minister for his livelihood”. Daphne’s investigations into Muscat previously revealed several members of his administration set up secretive offshore companies shortly after entering government.
Serious problems with regard to the members of the Board of Inquiry announced last night. One represents clients my mother investigated for money laundering. Another depends on the Prime Minister for his livelihood. These clear conflicts will poison the inquiry’s work. https://t.co/3hP4MBdCah— Andrew Caruana Galizia (@acaruanagalizia) September 21, 2019
The family’s concerns have been echoed by Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau director of journalists’ campaign group RSF.
“The establishment of a public inquiry is long overdue, and is an essential step towards justice...This is the result of the sustained advocacy efforts of her family and civil society groups for nearly two years. But a public inquiry that lacks independence and impartiality will fool no one - and the goal remains full justice for this heinous assassination. We will remain vigilant and scrutinise the composition and actions of the Board of Inquiry, and act to hold the Maltese government to account for its international obligations,” she said in a statement.
Three men - Brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, and Vincent Muscat (no relation to the Prime Minister), all in their fifties - were arrested in December 2017, and the case is pending trial, although police investigations into who ultimately ordered the killing have allegedly stalled.
Secretary General— Daniel Holtgen (@CoESpokesperson) September 21, 2019
Pejcinovic-Buric welcomes #Malta will hold a public inquiry into the murder of journalist #Daphne #Caruana-Galizia: “Freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed without protection and full respect for journalists.” #ECHR #Mediafreedom pic.twitter.com/vieKp2eCsc
Ironically however, Daphne’s family may themselves be facing court - when she was assassinated, she was subject to over 40 civil and criminal defamation suits, of which 30 were posthumously transferred to her family under Maltese law that allows claimants to pursue actions against the heirs of a deceased defendant. Among the claimants is Prime Minister Muscat, who has refused to drop his case unless the journalist’s family accept the findings of an inquiry he claims exonerated him of corrupt activity.
His refusals persist despite Council of Europe human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic writing to him 12th September and urging for the actions to be dismissed, not least because if they proceed Daphne’s heirs may be compelled to reveal information on her journalistic work and sources in open court.
“This is not only an excessive and very complex burden for the respondents but may also constitute an undue interference with the right to protection of journalistic sources. Continuing these claims – many of which were lodged by public officials including yourself – is not only perceived as an intimidation of a family faced with the loss of their loved one but also raises questions regarding the Maltese authorities’ commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of this horrendous crime to justice,” she wrote.