The family of Daphne Caruana Galizia fought for almost two years to get the government to order a public independent inquiry into her killing. The government refused, backed by the attorney general’s opinion that an inquiry would obstruct the criminal justice system.

I was there, in Strasbourg, when Peter Grech and Owen Bonnici told a large delegation of MPs from parliaments of 47 European countries that an independent inquiry would disrupt criminal proceedings against Daphne’s killers. The argument wasn’t sitting well with their audience. All countries have a criminal justice system. Why was Malta so especially incapable of multitasking?

The attorney general’s advice was finally discarded when the European Commission told Malta it would either comply with the Council of Europe’s demand for an independent inquiry or face painful sanctions.

In November 2019, Joseph Muscat was desperately seeking strategic retreats in the hope of survival. Pardoning Melvin Theuma after avoiding his arrest for 20 months, ditching Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi after holding on to them for three turbulent years, and now relenting and allowing an independent inquiry to start after blocking it for so long.

As it happened, the attorney general’s advice was bullshit. The criminal process is still very much under way, albeit at Malta’s maddeningly slothful pace. The public inquiry is in the meantime asking hard questions no criminal trial can ask.

How much did the state know about plans to kill Daphne before it actually happened? Much. How has the state protected her life when it had been in such danger? Not at all.

How hard did the state work at bringing to justice the criminals she exposed? How hard did the state work at bringing her killers to justice?

Robert Abela’s decision to shut down the public inquiry… is yet another action of the state to suppress the truth- Manuel Delia

These two questions may seem distinct, almost separate. But they are two sides of the same coin. As one of the judges on the inquiry board put it in a recent sitting: “The motive of the crime was double: the Panama Papers and 17 Black. If the police had done something about those crimes when they became aware of them, things would have turned out differently.”

It feels like that statement is some insight into a very early draft executive summary of the inquiry’s eventual report. But the inquiry has much, much further to go.

The prosecution of the assassins, and the man charged with hiring them to kill Daphne through a middleman, is a long and complex process which we are expected to be patient about.

We’ve known about Alfred and George Degiorgio and the one-eyed Vincent Muscat for 33 months and yet no jury has heard the case against them.

And their trial judge and the magistrate presiding over the disclosure of evidence against Yorgen Fenech both remarked they are aware more people involved in the conspiracy to murder Daphne are still at large.

The victim’s relatives are expected to bear stoically with the interminable objections, counter-pleas, lawyerly theatrics and baroque procedures as they live in fear that somehow all the compelling evidence is discredited for the benefit of their loved one’s killers.

In the meantime, the public inquiry is examining a conspiracy even bigger than the band of killers that killed Daphne.

The criminal trials hunt the perpetrators of the crime of killing Daphne. The public inquiry hunts for the perpetrators of the crimes the crime of killing Daphne was meant to cover up.

Daphne’s murder requires justice in and of itself, no doubt. But the murder was not an end in itself. It was intended for the preservation and protection of the greater crime of reducing Malta to a vassalage for organised crime.

You’d expect, rightly, that the work of the public inquiry then is greater, deeper and more complex than untangling the Gordian knot that is the murder conspiracy.

It’s going to take more witnesses, more analyses and deeper investigations to find out how a bunch of political whiz-kids and third-generation clan scions, affectionately though misleadingly known as ‘businessmen’, used our democracy for personal enrichment and to this day continue to pump out precious and limited national resources and injecting it into their corrupt veins.

At least, while they await trial, the Degiorgios live in prison. But the Fenechs, the Apap Bolognas and the Gasans continue to cash in on the Electrogas deal every day, their conscience undisturbed, their luxury yachts purring, their Pacific island bank accounts bubbling gently, their hold on the country undiminished.

That’s how they want it to stay. Daphne was killed for the grand scheme to go unchallenged. A pesky public inquiry should be easier to do away with. Enough with the awkward questions already. Top policemen who had the decency to chase hardened tuna-can shoplifters and pomegranate poachers, leaving the mafia- casino money launderers in peace and quiet and not forced to squirm under the heat of the inquiry.

Politicians, on either side of Joseph Muscat’s fan base in his successor’s cabinet, have been forced to testify against each other in open court.

At this rate, the inquiry risks opening the eyes of the recalcitrant and the fanatic, causing the grip this mafia has on our country to loosen.

In steps Robert Abela. The inquiry must stop. It’s asking irrelevant questions to irrelevant witnesses, he says.

It’s time to reverse Joseph Muscat’s strategic withdrawal and pivot on to the offensive. The mafia state must ensure its own survival. The mafia state must outlive any inquiry meant to dismantle it as it has outlived the journalist who exposed it.

Abela won’t see the irony. But his decision to shut down the public inquiry should be the subject of the inquiry itself: it is yet another action of the state to suppress the truth, deny justice and perpetuate the control of our lives by the people who most profit from it.

Isn’t it ironic?

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