It is believed that the issue became a last-minute addition to the plenary agenda because of the arrest of Keith Schembri, former head of cabinet of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who resigned in January 2020.
Muscat resigned after mounting international pressure for failing to investigate alleged deep-seated corruption and money laundering in his own government.
Schembri and ten others are accused of several counts of corruption, money laundering and fraud in relation to a number of cases. Schembri also faces accusations related to the sale of Maltese passports.
In September 2020, the Commission published a damning report on the poor state of the rule of law in Malta, especially regarding impunity for corruption and financial crime. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe has consistently followed up the lack of rule of law in Malta.
While the Commission will be present in plenary, the Council has refused to participate and a resolution on the rule of law in Malta will only be voted during the April plenary.
The investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in October 2017, played a key role in uncovering alleged wrongdoing by high ranking Maltese officials.
On the recent third anniversary of her death, Parliament launched “The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism” which will be awarded in October 2021 for the first time.
German Greens MEP Sven Giegold, financial and economic policy spokesperson of his group and member of several European Parliament delegations to Malta, said it is “good news that Keith Schembri finally faces trial for corruption, money laundering and forgery.”
“The misappropriation of state funds must have consequences. It is now in the hands of the Maltese justice system to end the de facto impunity for financial crime. Malta needs fundamental institutional reforms to strengthen the rule of law” Sven Giegold, Greens/EFA
He added, “For too long, he has remained untouched by the investigation even though the evidence of his crimes while he was head of cabinet is crushing.”
“The misappropriation of state funds must have consequences. It is now in the hands of the Maltese justice system to end the de facto impunity for financial crime. Malta needs fundamental institutional reforms to strengthen the rule of law.”
“While the prosecution of individual cases is crucial, the systemic causes need to be addressed, too.”
He added, “Europe has a responsibility to ensure that there are political consequences following the crucial revelations made by Daphne and others.”
“The European Commission must urgently initiate infringement proceedings against Member States that systematically violate the rule of law, including Malta. So far, the Commission has also not delivered on a request by the European Parliament to investigate the state of democracy and the protection of fundamental rights in Malta.”
“The seriousness and extent of the accusations against Keith Schembri and others proves that such an investigation is urgently needed.”
One big question remains: What was Schembri’s role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia?
Giegold said, “His connection to Jorgen Fenech, who is accused of hiring the hit men and whose trial is to start in a few months, is too strong to be ignored.”
“The trials of Schembri and Fenech now offer the opportunity to finally get to the bottom of this murder. At the European Parliament, we demand that no stone remains unturned until all those responsible for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia face justice.”
He added, “The culture of impunity for corruption and for people like Schembri, Fenech and co. must come to an end now.”