Castille square (fotolia - no need to credit)

Updated with remarks by Prime Minister Robert Abela below

A public inquiry into the murder of prominent journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has, among several conclusions, determined that steps must be taken to regulate and rein in politicians’ links with big business.

The inquiry also concluded that the state must bear responsibility for the murder, which took place on 16th October 2017 through the use of a car bomb.

In a 437-page report, the inquiry found a culture of impunity stemming from the highest levels of power within Castille, the Office of the Prime Minister.

It noted that the state missed the real and immediate risks to Ms Caruana Galizia’s life and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent these risks.

The board of inquiry said all evidence heard throughout pointed towards a conviction that the assassination was directly or fundamentally linked to her investigative work, leading to a situation where a need was felt to limit the damage the journalist’s writings had on Government.

Prime Minister Robert Abela’s comments after the publishing the report on Thursday

This need was felt to avoid endangering plans by those seeking to capitalise on their close connections with top Government officials.

The board noted that the confrontation between Ms Caruana Galizia’s work and Government reached fever pitch when she published the Panama Papers revelations  in 2016,  and the circumstances surrounding the setting up of 17 Black, a Dubai company later revealed to belong to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

On politicians’ links with big business, the inquiry noted that a “business-friendly approach”, one that has been championed by the Labour Government from when it re-entered power in 2013 and prior, can be something positive, so long as steps are taken to prevent abuse.

The board described finding “abundant proof” of the close relationship between some Government officials and big business, particularly those working towards promoting large-scale infrastructure projects.

The board also noted that the proximity between business and politics was a determining factor leading to the majority of such projects being scrutinised by the auditor-general and magisterial inquiries.

The added scrutiny by Malta’s institutions found irregularities on such a level that there was a possibility for contracts awarded to be rendered null, the board said.

Describing the “manipulation” of top officials, the board also noted that big business jumped on the opportunity to continue their projects with minimal administrative oversight.

The inquiry singled out the Prime Minister’s chief of staff role, occupied by Keith Schembri during the tenure of Joseph Muscat, as a “crucial” element in understanding how these intimate links between big business and Government were created.

Turning to Ms Caruana Galizia’s writings on the matter, the board of inquiry said she was particularly critical of the intimacy between big business and Government, and of the ensuing administrative failures.

Robert Abela press conference
Prime Minister Robert Abela addresses a press conference on Thursday evening (today)

In a press conference addressing the findings of the inquiry on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Robert Abela apologised to the Caruana Galizia family for the shortcomings of the state which resulted in an environment that allowed for her murder to take place.

He shot down questions of whether an election should be held to reconfirm his mandate following the inquiry’s conclusions by highlighting the numerous reforms that took place since he was voted to replace former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat by the Labour Party in January 2020. Such reforms include changes to how the President of the Republic, the Police Commissioner and members of the judiciary are appointed.

When pressed about the need for an election to confirm his legitimacy among the electorate, Dr Abela said this was not the case, and that his administration was a new one.

Despite there being Cabinet members who served under Dr Muscat, the Prime Minister was at pains to stress that all those mentioned in the inquiry were no longer part of Government.

He said a public consultation would be launched on how to address the recommendations contained within the inquiry, starting with reconciliation.

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