Malta's leader has offered to end a posthumous libel case against a murdered journalist only if her family say she was wrong to have accused him.
"I would be ready to drop this libel case if the Caruana Galizia family make a declaration to the effect that they accept the findings of the Egrant Inquiry," Maltese prime minister Jospeh Muscat said in a letter to the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, made public on Thursday (19 September).
Car bomb killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in November 2017, but mastermind of crime never identified (Photo: Continentaleurope)
Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in 2017 after accusing top government figures, including Muscat and his wife, of being involved in corruption schemes.
The Egrant Inquiry "exonerated me and my family" Muscat said, and its findings had been "made public", he added.
But in fact, the enquiry, by an independent magistrate, did not exonerate anybody because its findings had no judicial status.
The 1,500-page report and its supporting documents were also never made public, even though Malta's attorney general did disclose excerpts which painted Muscat in a good light.
And Muscat's offer amounted to "blackmail", Caruana Galizia's family said in a statement the same day.
"We will not concede to extortion by our public servants. Our position on not accepting blackmail will never change," the family said.
Muscat wrote to the Council of Europe in response to a plea by its human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, earlier this month, to leave the late journalist's family in peace.
There were still some 30 active civil defamation claims against her family, Mijatovic noted.
These meant "her heirs could be expected to reveal information on her journalistic work and sources" in order to escape damages, he said.
They also "put unwarranted psychological and financial pressure" on her bereaved relatives, he added.
"The current legal provisions which allow the passing of defamation cases to heirs ... have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in particular," he also said.
"Continuing these claims ... raises questions regarding the Maltese authorities' commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of this horrendous crime to justice," Mijatovic said.
Muscat also refused to repeal the law on posthumous cases or to take action on the other lawsuits.
He did it on grounds that people who were defamed had a right to a fair trial even if their accuser was dead.
"The government cannot interfere in ... civil actions started by third parties and private citizens against the heirs of a deceased journalist who would have accepted the inheritance [of that journalist's assets]", Muscat said.
Three men have been charged with planting and detonating the bomb which killed Caruana Galizia, but almost two years after her assassination, which shocked Europe, Maltese authorities appear to be no closer to saying who ordered it.
And the slow pace shows there is no political will in Malta to solve the crime, her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, told EUobserver in July.
Noting that Slovak police had managed to solve a similar case in under a year, "this shows that where there is political will then the authorities are able to do this," he said.
"If they could do it in Slovakia, there's no reason why they cannot do the same in Malta," he added.