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Malta's fight against corruption and crooks

October 18, 2017

The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has refocused attention on corruption and money-laundering scandals in Malta. The island that critics - including her own son - described as a "mafia state."

Yachts in Malta's Grand Harbour
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Effner

After the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to do more to combat money-laundering and corruption in Malta after looking the other way for too long.

Caruana Galizia was thefirst to reveal the Maltese names in the "Panama Papers," the 11.5 million documents leaked in May 2016 that revealed how wealth was hidden and laundered across the world.

Perhaps most notably, she wrote about offshore shell companies held in Panama and elsewhere by members of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's government - as well as his wife. Many of the accusations in her widely read blog, whose last post was published less than an hour before her death on Monday, were repeated by her son Matthew Caruana Galizia in a Facebook post published on Tuesday.

"It is of little comfort for the prime minister of this country to say that he will 'not rest' until the perpetrators are found," he wrote. "First he filled his office with crooks, then he filled the police with crooks and imbeciles, then he filled the courts with crooks and incompetents. If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate - and my brothers and I would still have a mother."

MEPs step in

The German Green party Member of European Parliament Sven Giegold, who met Daphne Caruana Galizia as a member of the European Parliament's Panama Papers inquiry, wrote his own blog post in the wake of the journalist's death, accusing the European Commission of doing too little to end the "culture of impunity" in Malta.

"We had a plenary debate [on Malta] in June, and after the debate, we put questions to the European Commission asking for precise information on possible treaty violations by Malta, and the Commission until now has not answered," he told DW. "I believe Malta is breaking EU money-laundering laws, and the European Commission has been idle. They have not enforced money-laundering laws in many areas."

The problem with Malta

Malta, like many smaller EU states and separate entities within states, such as the UK's islands Jersey and Guernsey — create financial environments that easetax evasion and allow corruption. Other members of the EU inquiry were "shocked" by the circumstances on Malta, according to Molly Scott Cato, MEP of the British Green party, who said the information Caruana Galizia provided helped to set up the committee.

A tent over the scene of Galizia's death
Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb on MondayImage: Reuters/D. Zammit

"This is coming out of the free flow of capital that's been around since the 1980s," Cato said. "It's enabled the global plutocrat to spread money around to avoid paying tax. The problem is, once you start with that, corruption follows — so we know we've got criminal money, we've got money financing terrorism.

"The level of corruption in Malta doesn't come as a surprise to me," she added. "But it's obviously shocking that someone would be killed like this. Our absolute priority is that we need to have a full inquiry, and it needs to be seen to be independent, because, unfortunately, there is no longer much confidence in the ability of the Maltese authorities to conduct their investigations."

That much was backed up by a tweet sent out by Herman Grech, a journalist at the Times of Malta newspaper, who said the investigation has been slow to get started.

But Grech was also keen to defend Malta's reputation: "If you were to ask me is the police in a bad state, my answer is yes: I don't think the police are competent and equipped enough to deal with certain problems this country is facing. Is this place a mafia state? No it's not. I find it quite ridiculous that it is being called that."

Not that there weren't systemic problems in the country, Grech added.

"It's a problem that former politicians are appointed to the bench," he said. "We're filling up important posts with partisan people. So I'm not discounting corruption."

Grech also said that while the Maltese crime rate was relatively low, gang-related crime had always been a problem.

"Statistically, Malta is one of the safest countries in Europe, but we've had five or six car bombs in the last two years - none of them have been resolved," he said.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight