24 March 2021

President David Sassoli, MEP
European Parliament

Mr President:

Malta’s struggle against the Mafia is a European fight

Repubblika was set up in the wake of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. We have stood up to the pervasive and institutionalised corruption of the government of Joseph Muscat and campaigned for his resignation and the removal of some of his ministers.

However, we do not claim credit for the changes of November 2019. These changes happened because many forces for good stepped up. The European Parliament had a leading role in this.

It started with the moral leadership of your predecessor, President Antonio Tajani, whose authority as a journalist, an Italian with an intuitive understanding of mafia crime and a European leader committed to the rule of law contrasted with the moral bankruptcy of Malta’s compromised political leadership. Coupled with his work and his words there were also fact-finding missions to Malta by EP Committees and debates and resolutions in the Chamber. The Parliament has been a vital ally in the battle for justice and the resistance against organised crime.

The defining element in this success of the EP was the moral force of cross-party consensus. The resolutions demanding accountability and the end of impunity in Malta found the support of all political groupings who may have different policy views but share a fundamental commitment to the rule of law. That political consensus in Strasbourg has had the effect of encouraging the Commission and the Council to look at what was happening in Malta and join the calls for change. And it has of course forced the ruling Labour Party in Malta to withdraw its support for Joseph Muscat.

Just over a year since Joseph Muscat’s departure from politics and the loosening of his grip on Maltese institutions, we are seeing brave officials in the police, the prosecution service and the magistrature step up and take long overdue action against Joseph Muscat’s chief co-conspirators and enablers.

We are now at an extremely delicate juncture in the ongoing battle in Malta between the mafia that gripped its institutions and killed Daphne Caruana Galizia and the people committed to justice and the rule of law.

Honest policemen, prosecutors, magistrates, as well as journalists and activists are under constant threats from criminals, both those remanded in custody and those that are still beyond the reach of the law. We cannot allow anyone to underestimate the risks they are taking to their lives, families and property.

The nature of the threats they and we receive is chillingly familiar. They are identical to what was done to Daphne Caruana Galizia before and after she was killed. The pursuit for truth and justice is misrepresented as motivated by tribal partisanship and serving the interests of the opposition political party in Malta.

Just this week Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat’s right-hand man, who is now remanded in custody charged with money laundering, forgery, fraud, corruption and lying under oath, branded the work of the police and prosecutors who charged him as the work of a “political establishment” that resents the successes he secured for Malta’s Labour Party.

That position was echoed by Joseph Muscat who responded to calls for independent investigations into stories published by Daphne Caruana Galizia as “revenge” for his past electoral successes. This is nothing short of populist mobilisation of retribution against officials pursuing evidence, no matter where it takes them, especially if it takes them to the heart of the criminal gang that captured Malta in the last few years and still refuses to let go.

The charges brought against Keith Schembri in the last few days relate to offences revealed and documented by Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2016. At the time, Daphne’s revelations were branded “partisan revenge”. That response was successful enough for Keith Schembri to remain in office until 2019 and beyond the reach of the law until 2021. In the meantime, of course, Daphne was killed. It is no coincidence that throughout this time Keith Schembri turned down every request by EP delegations to meet them and give account of his conduct.

We hope this fact alone illustrates the danger to journalists and State officials exposing fresh revelations in an environment about as toxic now as it had been on the eve of Daphne’s killing.

In the last few days alone, policemen and prosecutors have produced witnesses in court that have testified to the direct involvement of past and present government ministers in major crimes including armed robbery and conspiracy to murder.

Two days ago, journalists exposed a government minister for arranging illicit contracts, paid for by her department, with a person she is close to. This is particularly galling considering this minister was reinstated to the Cabinet just last November, having already had to resign in early 2020 because her then husband had been exposed for helping Yorgen Fenech avoid justice. Yorgen Fenech is the man later charged with masterminding the conspiracy to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Three days ago, journalists exposed two senior government officials who used private emails to draft for Yorgen Fenech submissions he needed to make to them so they would approve, as in fact they did, the extension of his casino license. The casino, long exposed for connections with the Sicilian mafia, is still in business and still making money for Yorgen Fenech. The license exposed to have been extended on false pretences is still in force. The officials who enabled it face no criminal consequence.

Four days ago, policemen and prosecutors charged a licensed financial services operator who ran a money-laundering machine for Keith Schembri and other senior exponents of the ruling party. Journalists have documented his illicit activities since 2018. Though he is remanded in custody awaiting trial for industrial-scale money-laundering, Malta’s financial regulator still lists him as “fit and proper” to provide financial services and his office remains open for business.

Also in the last few days, Malta’s Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has reported to Malta’s Parliament on ethical misconduct of a government minister but the Parliamentary Committee controlled by a majority of MPs from the ruling party refused to discuss the report. They have done so before, suppressing another report by the same official who found Joseph Muscat’s conduct had been unethical when he hired unofficial bouncers to lock-up journalists inside the prime minister’s office.

It will not surprise you to learn that the government has started proceedings to ban our NGO Repubblika from the list of officially recognised civil society organisations, branding our campaign for reforms, for the end to criminal impunity and for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia as “partisan” and “not in the public interest” and therefore “illegal”. The government’s action has the effect of making the simple act of accepting EU-funding under programs to support civil society, a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.

We mention these examples purely because they are recent. The list of outstanding and unresolved scandals accumulated in the last few years is much longer. The exposure of these scandals demonstrates the determination of journalists and honest public officials to expose corruption and criminal infiltration without fear or favour and without restraining themselves because the subjects of their investigations are people of political power with direct access to criminals who could blow them up on order.

The MEPs who travelled to Malta since the ‘Panama Papers’ leaks in 2016 will confirm to you that this sort of courage and commitment to duty is not normal for Malta. Up to very recently the norm for Malta was omertà and a callous complicity between the institutions of the State and organised crime. Malta was, and in many respects still is, in effect a Mafia State.

We cannot emphasise enough how important the European Parliament’s interest, leadership and presence here in Malta in the last 5 years has been, to give courage to honest public officials, journalists and activists to step up and defy the code of silence and complicity.

We would be dismayed to see the mafia’s defence – that resistance to it and calls for legal consequence to criminal action is a cover for this country’s perennial partisan and tribal rivalries – projected onto positions adopted by political groupings in the European Parliament. Impunity is not a harmless partisan rivalry. Impunity is the erosion of the rule of law and of democracy. And impunity is deadly for those who resist it.

When Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up in a car, the European Parliament saw that moment for what it was: a mafia act of terrorism. We implore you not to allow the distance of time to cause the heat of that fire to fade in your memory, to be replaced instead with the mafia’s classic method of surviving: persuading you it does not even exist.

We also urge you not to underestimate the continental scale of the challenge of organised crime. Mafia organisations exploit Europe’s freedoms to operate cross-border criminal activities whilst policing and law enforcement in Europe is dragged down by internal borders. European crimes should be stopped by a European police force enjoying seamless jurisdictional authority. European prosecutors should be able to file charges at European criminal courts. A European problem requires a European solution and it is in your power to achieve this.

The mafia exists and some of its most violent criminals, self-confessed serial assassins, are now falling over themselves to testify against Maltese government ministers, past and present, who hired them for heists, murders and political assassinations. Malta’s prime minister was, in his recent past, a legal representative for gangland leaders now charged with murder.

It feels to us that the scale of the challenge is such that the criminal enemy is greater, its tentacles too deep, its grip too tight, for the institutions of a single Member State to be able to defeat alone. We turn to you, to all MEPs of all political hues, to your leadership and to the European values of justice and the rule of law, to extend the protection of your oversight to those seeking justice and law in Malta. In the words expressed by your eminent institution several times since 16 October 2017, Europe cannot allow one of its own in the grasp of the criminal and corrupt.

More than ever, we need you alongside us.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Aquilina