An inquiry into high-level corruption claims made by the murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has found no evidence that the Maltese prime minister’s wife was involved in money-laundering.
Mrs Galizia, the island’s most influential blogger, was killed in a car bomb attack last October, just six months after reporting that Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle had a secret bank account that was used for laundering cash for the ruling family of Azerbaijan.
The allegation – part of a string of stories she wrote alleging sleaze in Malta’s government – prompted widespread speculation that she had been the victim of a state-backed assassination.
However, a lengthy inquiry by a Maltese magistrate has now ruled that there was no evidence to link either Ms Muscat or her husband to Egrant, a shell company first identified in the 2016 Panama papers scandal.
Mrs Galizia had alleged that Egrant was used to channel more than $1m (£761,000) from the family of President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, a central Asian republic with a reputation for corruption and human rights abuses.
The ruling, which came after magistrate Aaron Bugeja took evidence from 477 witnesses, including forensic experts, is a potential blow to Ms Galizia’s family and supporters, who have also voiced concerns that the inquiry could be subject to political interference.
They have received backing in the past in their campaign for justice from high-level figures within the EU, including Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, who attended Mrs Galizia’s funeral last November.
The magistrate’s report came as a relief for Mr Muscat, who shed tears when he read out the details of its findings at a press conference. While he and his wife have always denied any impropriety, he told an interviewer earlier this year that his daughters had at one point feared that their parents might end up in prison.
Mrs Galizia’s claims centred on Pilatus bank, one of many private finance houses in Malta, which she said a safe containing documents proving the financial links between Ms Muscat and the Azerbaijani ruling family. Her claims led Mr Muscat being forced to call a snap election in June 2017 to shore up confidence in his leadership.
The magistrate’s inquiry, though, found contradictory evidence from Maria Efimova, a whistleblower at Pilatus who had been Galizia’s main source for the story. While Mrs Galizia claimed to have been shown the documents by Efimova, Efimova claimed never to have shown them to her.
In a statement on Monday, Mrs Galizia’s family said that since inquiry had still not got to the bottom of who really was the beneficial owner of the Egrant company, Mr Muscat and his family could not claim to be in the clear.
"In the conclusions to his inquiry report, Magistrate Bugeja is unable to say with confidence that the Prime Minister is guiltless, nor can he state unequivocally that the allegations are false as he has been unable to prove the ownership of Egrant Inc," they said.
They added: "The Maltese public is expected to simply accept as fact that we will never know for whom Egrant was set up. This is a dangerous notion that cannot coexist with democracy."
In December, two Maltese brothers, George and Alfred Degiorgio, aged 55 and 53, and Vincent Muscat, 55, were charged with murdering Mrs Galizia. They were arrested after police tracked mobile phone records to a sim card allegedly used as a remote detonator for the bomb.
However, police sources have hinted that the three were simply "trigger men" and that whoever ordered the bombing may still be at large.