Judge Abigail Lofaro has been backed by Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family, the government and two other judges who sit on an inquiry into the journalist’s assassination, one day after her husband was implicated in a property deal involving murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
Reading a decree out in court on Monday morning, judge Lofaro said that she had only learnt of the matter on December 19 when her husband, Pierre Lofaro, received questions about it from Times of Malta. The news report was published the following day.
She said she saw no grounds to recuse herself from the public inquiry, but asked for a declaration of trust in her integrity, impartiality and independence.
Lawyers representing the Caruana Galizia family, Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi, as well as the two other judges sitting on the board of inquiry, Michael Mallia and Joseph Said Pullicino, all declared their full trust in the judge.
In a statement issued in the afternoon, the government said it wanted the inquiry "as it is composed" to complete its work and did not want it to be undermined.
Lofaro’s decree follows a report in The Sunday Times of Malta that junior minister Rosianne Cutajar brokered the sale of a multi-million euro property in Mdina to Yorgen Fenech, the business mogul who stands accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Cutajar is alleged to have pocketed a €46,500 commission in cash for her part of the deal. The sale fell through when Fenech was arrested in November 2019 and the property seller is now reportedly chasing her and an associate of hers to refund the brokerage fee.
Cutajar has insisted she “always acted correctly” and said that questions about the matter should be addressed elsewhere.
Lofaro’s husband, lawyer Pierre Lofaro, served as a director for the company which sought to sell the Mdina property to Fenech. He resigned that position in January 2020 but continued to represent the company legally in subsequent months.
Judge Lofaro was appointed to the inquiry in November 2019.
In her decree, judge Lofaro said that while the reports concerning the property deal were not in themselves grounds for her to recuse herself, she did not want any suspicions to cloud the inquiry or its work.
She said that she was willing to step down from the inquiry if necessary, but that she would also continue to serve on the three-judge board if the state and Caruana Galizia family declared that they trusted her impartiality, independence and integrity.
Speaking on Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela made no direct mention of reports concerning Cutajar’s property deal but said he wanted the public inquiry protected from “attacks by those who want to undermine it.”