Justice Minister Owen Bonnici on Wednesday would not commit to launching a public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder within the three-month deadline stipulated by the Council of Europe, despite the Foreign Minister’s declaration that this would be done. 

Instead, Dr Bonnici echoed comments made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who said he would be seeking legal advice about holding a public inquiry in parallel with ongoing investigations.

Times of Malta sought Dr Bonnici’s comments after Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela made a surprise claim on the matter earlier this month.

In what appeared to be an off-the-cuff comment, Mr Abela told foreign journalists that the government would be meeting the three-month deadline and setting up an inquiry into whether Caruana Galizia’s assassination could have been prevented.

According to Dr Bonnici, however, what the Prime Minister had said last month and Mr Abela’s comments were “practically the same thing”.

In comments the day after the publication of the Council of Europe report setting the deadline, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had not committed to that deadline but said he would be seeking legal advice as he did not want to be “the one responsible for a public inquiry destroying the case against the three accused”.

On the other hand, Mr Abela said the government’s position “is that it will abide by the timing that the Council of Europe dictated”.

When Times of Malta pointed out that Mr Abela had committed to the deadline in his comments, Dr Bonnici reiterated that the government did not want to prejudice any pending investigation.

“That is why we have committed to engaging with the Council of Europe so that we can find a way forward,” Dr Bonnici insisted.

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Pressed to say whether this meant the government would be sticking to the three-month deadline or whether it was merely committing to engaging with the Council of Europe on the matter, the Justice Minister again would not say.

“Let me give you an example. The [Council of Europe] resolution was very clear. Once this was adopted, the next thing we knew was that the three persons accused of the murder had filed a judicial act against a number of persons claiming that the report violated their right of fair hearing.”

This, he said, was one reason why the government wanted to “make sure the public inquiry does not prejudice the ongoing investigations”.

Pressed further on whether he would say “yes” to starting the inquiry as requested, Dr Bonnici said the government would be engaging with the Council of Europe and that he was “confident a solution can be found”.

Since the journalist was killed in a car bomb outside her home in October 2017, and prior to the publication of the report, the government had been steadfastly opposing calls for such an inquiry.

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