Slain Malta journalist's family hails public inquiry U-turn

Valletta (AFP) –


The family of slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on Friday hailed the government's surprise announcement of a public inquiry into her 2017 killing but voiced concern that it might not be independent.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Friday appointed a retired judge to head the probe into the fatal car bombing that killed journalist and blogger Caruana Galizia, whose family and supporters have repeatedly called for an independent probe.

The announcement came days ahead of the expiry of a Council of Europe deadline for an independent inquiry, and the family of the murdered anti-corruption journalist hailed the move.

"A public inquiry chaired by a respected former judge is what all right-minded people have been calling for since our mother?s and wife's assassination," a statement said.

"Justice demands that the board?s wider members have no financial or political links to the current political administration," the family said, requesting a meeting with Muscat "to discuss our concerns".

The inquiry, which must be concluded within nine months, will be headed by retired judge Michael Mallia, who will work alongside legal expert Ian Refalo and former police forensic expert Anthony Abela Medici.

Refalo has previously advised the government on legal matters and Abela Medici was recently appointed a government commissioner.

"The board will be unfit for purpose if the public has reason to doubt any of its wider members? independence or impartiality," the family said.

- Criminal Investigation -

Caruana Galizia, described by supporters as a "one-woman WikiLeaks," had highlighted corruption in Malta, including among politicians.

Muscat and his family were among those accused by her investigations and her blog, which often launched highly personal attacks.

The prime minister's office said it had agreed to the inquiry after it was assured it would not undermine criminal investigations into the killing.

Three men are facing trial, but the masterminds have not been identified.

The Maltese government said it had held talks with the Council of Europe, which in June gave Valletta a September 26 deadline to set up such an inquiry, on how to avoid it endangering criminal proceedings.

The Council's rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic this month sent a letter to Muscat asking that libel cases still being pursued in Maltese courts against Caruana Galizia's family be dropped.

After her death, some 30 such cases were transferred to her family under a Maltese civil law which allows plaintiffs to pursue actions against the heirs of a deceased accused.

After Caruana Galizia's death, her sons called on Muscat to resign, accusing him of failing to uphold fundamental freedoms on the island, an EU member since 2004, and creating a culture of political impunity.