A European prosecutor is getting shut out of magisterial inquiries due to gaps in the way EU rules were implemented in Malta.

European prosecutor Yvonne Farrugia said these implementation gaps, together with a lack of police resources, are slowing down the pace of investigations by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).

Farrugia says she is pushing to ensure the necessary legal changes are made to allow for cooperation between inquiring magistrates and the EU anti-graft agency.

At present, EPPO is getting shut out of such inquiries, which are carried out under a veil of secrecy, even if the case falls within its remit.

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard presented a draft law to increase EPPO’s power in December, only to withdraw the bill from parliament the following month. 

Multiple requests for comment sent to the justice ministry throughout last week went unanswered. 

Times of Malta revealed last year how an EPPO probe into the €40 million Marsa junction project faced obstacles, as both the police and an inquiring magistrate refused to hand over data from murder suspect Yorgen Fenech’s phone.

Fenech was promised €2 million in success fees for helping a Turkish bidder on the verge of bankruptcy win the Marsa bid.

Farrugia says she is determined to oversee an effective office, ensuring that laws are not merely applied on paper.

Malta has gone from zero EPPO investigations in 2021 to having Europe’s highest rate of per-capita probes.

EPPO’s annual report, published this month, revealed that Malta ended 2022 with 14 investigations at the EPPO’s office over projects worth a total of €123.5 million.

Three of those cases concern VAT fraud investigations of projects worth a total of €70.5 million.

Four cases include cross-border investigations, another four concern corruption, two are about procurement expenditure fraud and one concerns money laundering.

While expressing her satisfaction with the increase in investigations, Farrugia said she is insisting on further improvements, including a dedicated EPPO unit within the police.

I am determined to oversee an effective office, ensuring that laws are not merely applied on paper- Yvonne Farrugia

She said it is no secret that the police need further investigative resources.

Due to a lack of executive powers, EPPO’s two investigators, known as delegated prosecutors, are totally reliant on the police cooperating and carrying out their orders.

Farrugia acknowledged that police investigators often have their own priorities and tasks, necessitating the need for a dedicated police unit to work on EPPO investigations.

Last year, the EU’s chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi raised concerns that Malta was only supporting her office with words, “not with facts”.

“I visited Malta, I had meetings with the national authorities and after two days it was very difficult for me to identify the institution that is responsible to detect the crimes because all of them said: It’s not me, it’s them.”

Farrugia says that following meetings with the authorities, the problems identified by Kövesi have been addressed and a new cooperation agreement drawn up.

The anti-fraud agency is a relatively new body, having only formally started operations in 2021.

Malta intitially declined to join in 2017 but reversed its decision after an international spotlight was cast on the government’s failure to fight corruption after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. 

It had said in October 2017 that the decision not to join the EPPO was based on “sound technical reasons” based on the principle of subsidiarity, where countries have a right to keep certain sectors under its control.

Five months later, then justice minister Owen Bonnici announced a change of heart and Malta’s participation in the EPPO was formally approved in August 2018.

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