European Parliament president David Sassoli has handed European leaders a letter by MEPs urging them to take a stance on Malta following “alarming” findings by an ad-hoc mission earlier this month.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced he is stepping down in January after developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination case rocked his government.
Mr Sassoli forwarded a letter written by MEPs on the mission, who said the rapid evolution of the situation merited the European Council and heads of government to weigh in and ensure European values were upheld throughout the EU.
The prime minister participated in the council meeting on Thursday afternoon.
The letter highlights how the ad-hoc delegation had already expressed its concerns over the “delayed” resignation of Dr Muscat.
It says the European Parliament mission to Malta had identified serious shortcomings and threats to the rule of law.
“These relate directly to the integrity of the murder investigation and the possible political interference therein, as well as to broad challenges of insufficient law enforcement in cases of money laundering and corruption”, the letter says.
Dr Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri has been implicated in the murder by business magnate Yorgen Fenech, who has been charged with ordering the killing.
Mr Schembri resigned hours before being questioned by the police about the claims levelled against him by Mr Fenech.
He was released without charge, in a move by the police that angered several Cabinet members.
The letter also points towards middleman Melvin Theuma’s testimony in court, suggesting involved of “senior” government officials and staff in the murder.
Prime minister Muscat's failure to resign immediately and the “suspension” of the Maltese parliament constituted a serious risk, real or perceived, that the murder investigation and connected probes would be compromised, the letter continues.
The MEPs say the investigation had come to a crucial point and any risk of political or other interference must be categorically excluded.
Activists from Occupy Justice have also demanded that the “desperate” situation in Malta is put on the agenda of Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders.
Occupy Justice wrote to European Council president Charles Michel, arguing that Malta is in a state of constitutional crisis "because the country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, has been linked not only to corruption and money laundering but also to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia."
Addressing a later press conference, Mr Sassoli refused to be drawn in to questions about whether Dr Muscat should immediately resign.
Mr Sassoli said the letter to the European Council president and European leaders had been sent after the EP mission to Malta had raised its concerns about the situation.
Muscat avoids media
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not give any comments to the waiting press pack at the start of the European Council summit.
He was later seen mingling with other European leaders at the first roundtable meeting.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would have no problem shaking Dr Muscat's hand when asked by reporters.
"I shake everyone's hands, even Bouterse," he said.
Surinamese president Desi Bouterse was last month sentenced to 20 years in prison over his role in the planning and ordering of the extrajudicial execution of 15 political prisoners.
Finland concerned about situation in Malta
Finland’s Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tupparainen expressed concern about the situation in Malta on Thursday, telling Politico in an interview that she is concerned about the rule of law situation.
“I think we have all the reasons to be concerned, and we have to monitor the situation closely. We have to analyse it, and hear also an explanation,” she said, speaking on behalf of the Finnish Presidency.
The head of the centre-right EPP grouping in the EU Parliament, Manfred Weber of Germany, told journalists it was a "huge scandal" that Muscat was still in office and said he should resign immediately resignation.
“For us it is a huge scandal that the prime minister is still in office, having in mind that there are obviously political links between the murdered journalist in Malta and on the other hand having in mind that the prime minister is still in office, so we are therefore supporting the demonstration and I think the prime minister should immediately resign.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story erroneously attributed the quotes in the letter to President Sassoli.
See the Libe committee report on Malta on pdf below.