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Disconcerting concerns

The letter Europol’s outgoing executive director wrote to Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes on the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation has led to a measure of controversy. A lot was made on what was meant by “new concerns” and “improvement” in “cooperation”.

The police insisted they had never been informed about any need of “room for improvement” in cooperation and noted they could not discuss the “new concerns” because they formed part of a “wider investigation”. They then said Europol confirmed the “room for improvement” part did not refer to cooperation with the police but was in relation to cooperation with other countries.

The Home Affairs Minister insisted the ex-Europol head had never raised the cooperation issue with him whenever they met. The stand taken by the police and their political master was rather different to what a government spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying: “Malta is cooperating with Europol at every level to get to the bottom of this case. If there is room for improvement, we will make any improvements necessary.”

The government spokesman was evidently careful in what to say. While for both the minister and the police cooperation was not at issue, the government spokesman seemed to have argued that if cooperation needed to be improved, the necessary action would be taken.

This is what the former Europol head wrote: “The investigation is highly complex and now involves a number of EU member states. New concerns have arisen, which are now the subject of further, high-priority investigation by Europol. While we continue to work closely with the Maltese authorities, there is some room for improvement in this cooperation and we are actively seeking to address this.”

Of course, he spoke on more than just “concerns” and better cooperation. One notes from the letter that Europol has been supporting the Maltese authorities “in this case”, presumably meaning the Bidnija murder, since October 26, 2017. That is 10 days after the car bomb explosion. Perhaps the police or the Home Affairs Minister can explain why it took so long to get the Europol on board. Hopefully, they will be outgoing as they were in reaction to the letter to Ms Gomes.

The letter also speaks about Europol’s involvement in the murder of a Slovakian journalist. “That case,” it says, “while in no way connected... does bear certain similarities, not least the fact that one of the victims was an investigative journalist and the existence of allegations of high-level corruption linked to the case.”

Though in no way saying or hinting that corruption in high places could be linked to Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder, the former Europol chief is still giving weight to the allegations. This contrasts sharply with the stand taken by some quarters, which soon discounted the ‘political’ connection theory and keep focusing on organised crime.

He also points out that Europol is bound by prevailing regulations “to rely on the information provided by the designated national competent authorities and to report developments in the case, including any matters arising of concern, solely to those authorities”.

That means Europol cannot act independently. When doubts and suspicious abound, as in the case of the Bidnija murder, it is a very disconcerting concern.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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