ሐበሻ ታይምስ ሚዲያ


Malta Arrests 10 Over Killing of Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

The wreckage of the car in which the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in October. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Facing pressure from the European Union to make progress in the investigation of the car bomb killing of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta announced on Monday that 10 people had been arrested in connection with the crime.

The detentions were the first outward signs that the authorities, whose inquiry into the killing has been dogged by accusations of incompetence and political meddling, were any closer to finding those responsible.

The family of the murdered journalist took no comfort from the detentions, complaining in a statement that they had been announced by the prime minister instead of the police, a blurring of responsibilities that, along with the swift leaking of the names and mug shots of suspects to local news media outlets, “prejudice the integrity of the investigation.”

Expressing concern that the authorities may “also be leaking information to other suspects, some of whom could be in or close to the government,” the family said, “None of the developments in the investigation or its handling by the Malta Police have served to reassure the family that real justice is within reach.”

The family said it was “concerned that a number of people who could be implicated continue to receive political cover for crimes they are widely reported to have committed.”

The killing of Ms. Caruana Galizia in October stunned residents of the Mediterranean island, where she had exposed startling levels of corruption in high places. It led to calls in the European Parliament for Malta, which joined the bloc in 2004, to be sanctioned for violating fundamental rights by failing to guarantee the rule of law.

All of those detained were Maltese citizens and were picked up in raids on three locations across Malta, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Most of the suspects were already known to the police in connection with other crimes, including murder, the official said.

Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister, said in separate statements on Monday that the suspects had been rounded up in operations involving the police, army and intelligence services. Officials said the operation was continuing and could lead to further detentions.

Investigators have 48 hours to question the suspects before deciding whether to prosecute them, Mr. Muscat said, offering no further details, including what charges might be filed.

The detentions came three days after members of the European Parliament completed a visit to Malta to examine its justice system. They voiced concern about a “culture of impunity” on the island, a problem that the Ms. Caruana Galizia had put at the center of her online blog, Running Commentary, and in a column in The Malta Independent newspaper.

Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament delegation, said in a statement on Friday that the group had arrived on the island “seriously concerned over the rule of law in Malta and left even more worried.”

“The police and the attorney general have demonstrated an unwillingness to investigate and failure to prosecute corruption and money laundering,” he added.

The delegation’s complaints added to momentum in Brussels for action against Malta under what is known as Article 7, a previously unused provision in European Union law that, in extreme cases, allows a country to be stripped of its voting rights and subjected to other punishments. That is unlikely to happen to Malta in the short term, but even the start of a full formal investigation by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, would be a severe blow.

Michael Farrugia, Malta’s minister of home affairs, said on Twitter that the investigation had involved “foreign experts,” but he did not specify their nationalities. The F.B.I.; Europol, a European police organization; and officials from the Netherlands have been assisting Maltese investigators, but the island’s police commissioner has said that those agents were only providing technical support and were not involved in steering the investigation.

The death of Ms. Caruana Galizia, 53, prompted protests attended by thousands of people. She was killed as she drove near her home in a rented car. The blast was so powerful that the police took four days to collect body parts and wreckage.

At one rally, demonstrators marched through Valletta, the Maltese capital, singing patriotic songs and waving placards that quoted the last words known to have been written by Ms. Caruana Galizia: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” Protesters accused the authorities of failing to protect her and of turning a blind eye to criminality inside and outside the government.

The demonstrations reflected a sense of disgust at the political elite that Ms. Caruana Galizia had been investigating, and the announcement of the arrests on Monday seemed intended in part to persuade skeptical citizens that her death was being properly investigated.

Ms. Caruana Galizia’s relatives have expressed doubt that the case will ever be solved. Over the past two years, the perpetrators of five other car bombings have eluded arrest and prosecution in Malta. The island, the smallest nation in the European Union, has a population of around 430,000 and has become an attractive destination for foreign money as a banking center and as a hub for online gambling.

Ms. Caruana Galizia’s husband and sons filed a suit on Nov. 22 calling for a senior police officer involved in the investigation, Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta, to be replaced because he is married to Justyne Caruana, a minister in the Labour Party government, of which Ms. Caruana Galizia was a fierce critic.

Leaving Mr. Valletta in charge, family members said, would compromise the investigation and breach their right to a fair and impartial hearing.

His involvement, the complaint to the Constitutional Court of Malta said, leads “to serious doubts about the independence and impartiality of the investigation” because the work of the murdered journalist “focused on people who are politically exposed and on politicians who are members of the same cabinet as the wife of the deputy commissioner.”

The family also complained that it had not been kept informed about the progress of the investigation, even as information was being leaked to local news media outlets.

Faith in the police force’s ability to conduct a serious investigation was further undermined by signs that some officers had even welcomed Ms. Caruana Galizia’s killing. Immediately after her death, one officer, Ramon Mifsud, about whom the journalist had written, posted a message on Facebook describing her as “cow dung” and cheering her murder. He was suspended.

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