Updated 7.15pm with Labour Party reaction
A magisterial inquiry into whether the prime minister, the brigadier, and the crew of an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat were responsible for the deaths of at least five migrants at sea has cleared them of homicide.
The government published the 420-page inquiry on Saturday afternoon.
In a statement accompanying the inquiry, the government said the magistrate had concluded that the allegations were not based on proof.
No documentary evidence or testimony backed up the claims against Abela, the Brigadier Jeffery Curmi, or the P52 crew, the inquiry reads.
In his conclusions, Magistrate Joe Mifsud called on the police’s counter terrorism unit to investigate a suspected smuggler whose mobile number was found in the possession of one of the rescued migrants.
The government also said the inquiry had concluded that Malta had met its international obligations.
On Wednesday, Times of Malta reported that the “lengthy” document had been finished and was to be handed to the office of the Attorney General for examination on Wednesday.
Where did this all begin?
The inquiry, led by Magistrate Joe Mifsud, was triggered back in April after civil society NGO Repubblika filed police complaints about two separate incidents at sea.
They filed complaints against the army and prime minister of having been responsible for the death of migrants at sea in an incident over Easter weekend.
A second complaint concerned the alleged intentional sabotage of a rubber boat carrying asylum seekers by the crew of the P52 patrol boat.
In its statement, the OPM said that the inquiry found that there were a number of points that contrasted sharply with reports by Repubbika, Avvenire, The New York Times, and The Guardian, in particular details based on tweets and press releases issued by NGO Alarm Phone.
The NGO that regularly announces the presence of migrant boats in the Mediterranean had claimed that migrants had been attacked at sea by Maltese personnel.
“The 70 people in distress near Malta called us moments ago and said: We have an emergency here. Malta military came and cut cable of motor. Water is in the boat. Malta military said ‘I leave you to die in the water. Nobody will come to Malta’,” the NGO tweeted.
However, fresh evidence submitted to the magistrate by Republikka once the inquiry had already started appeared to contradict the claims.
Repubblika's complaints had been filed on the NGO's behalf by its four lawyers, among them PN MP Jason Azzopardi. The other lawyers were Andrew Borg Cardona, Joe Ellis and Paul Borg Olivier.
What else did the inquiry find?
In its statement, the OPM said that Repubblika had not requested any clarification from it before filing their complaints with the police.
The crew of the P52 were not even on rescue duty on the days indicated by Repubblika in their complaint, the government said.
The government statement said the inquiry concluded that there ought to be clear protocol on how rescued migrants are relocated to other EU member states.
The OPM said that the inquiry concluded that the Police Commissioner ought to continue investigating international human trafficking, in collaboration with overseas partners.
The government said that the inquiry had concluded that there was a need for more investigations to identify who was organising clandestine trips across the sea.
The inquiry also established that Malta was indeed the likely destination of the migrants after GPS coordinates and dozens of photos of Malta were found in the migrants’ possession.
In his conclusions, the magistrate called on the police's immigration and economic crimes units to investigate a report compiled by one of the court experts into the suspected trafficking group behind the migrants' ill-fated journey.
Among other findings, the magistrate called on the police’s counter terrorism unit to investigate a suspected smuggler whose mobile number was found in the possession of one of the rescued migrants.
The inquiry also established that Malta was the likely destination of the migrants after GPS coordinates and dozens of photos of Malta were found in their possession.
It called on the police's immigration and economic crimes units to investigate a report compiled by one of the court experts into the suspected trafficking group behind the migrants' ill-fated journey.
Repubblika: We did our duty
In a statement, NGO Repubblika, which brought the criminal complaints that kickstarted the inquiry said it had merely done its duty in calling for an investigation into the deaths after 10 days in which the government failed to do so.
"It should be normal practice for the deaths of people in the context of actions by the Maltese State to be investigated. Repubblika carried out its duty when it asked the institutions to investigate. As long as the government fails in this duty, Repubblika will insist that the deaths of people, when the governments acts or fails to act to protect their lives, should be investigated," the NGO said.
It stressed that the criminal complaint was not an allegation of guilt but merely a call for an investigation, and that the inquiry could not determine guilt or innocence, but only gather evidence.
It also said the army personnel involved deserved to have the government explain what had happened, rather than remaining silent.
"Above all we note that following the pressure caused by our complaints, the government has stopped using methods that we believe led to these deaths and to 57 people being illegally forced back to Libya."
Labour: Azzopardi must shoulder responsibility
In a statement, the Labour Party said PN MP Jason Azzopardi, who signed the criminal complaint in his capacity as a lawyer for Repubblika, should shoulder responsibility.
The party said that Azzopardi had made "serious and false" allegations against the Prime Minister, army brigadier and AFM personnel.
It said that, once the inquiry had found no evidence to support claims of wrongdoing, the ball was in Opposition leader Adrian Delia's court to take action in respect of his MP.
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