A Maltese MP has accused a police sergeant of tipping off suspects in the murder of a prominent investigative journalist of their impending arrest.
Jason Azzopardi, also a lawyer for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family in the case against the three men, told fellow MPs the officer was removed after reports about the alleged leak.
Police denied the claims. A spokesman for the PM called them “lies”.
Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb close to her home last October.
The 53 year old was known for her blog accusing top politicians of corruption. Three suspects – the brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and their friend Vince Muscat – were arrested in a massive police operation in December.
‘Rotten to the core’
Mr Azzopardi named the alleged leaker in parliament as Sgt Aldo Cassar and claimed that he had access to sensitive information about investigations and surveillance as member of the Criminal Intelligence Unit.
As indications that the men had been tipped off, Mr Azzopardi said the suspects had thrown their mobile phones into the sea before the police arrived and that one of them had his partner’s phone number on his arm.
He also cited a media report which claimed that one of the officers had told the suspects: “How did you know we were coming? Did you smell us coming?”, the Times of Malta reports.
The MP claimed that after being informed about the alleged leak, Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, acting on orders from Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s office, gave Sgt Cassar two options – to transfer to a police station or to the Rapid Intervention Unit. He told parliament the officer opted for the intervention unit.
According to the MP, the sergeant breached several laws over the alleged leak and could face up to three years in prison.
He also alleged Sgt Cassar had previously been implicated in a visa scandal involving Libyans.
Mr Azzopardi, who said he had received the information from sources inside the police force, called for the resignation of the police commissioner for “colluding with criminals”. He also said the government was using the intelligence services to cover up any tracks.
“Instead of being used to protect us, the intelligence services are being used to protect criminals. You are rotten to the core!”
‘You’re a liar’
On Twitter, prime-ministerial spokesman Kurt Farrugia dismissed the accusations as “lies”.
Malta’s police force said it had never received any claim of a leak in the investigation and that the officer cited by Mr Azzopardi was “in no way privy to any information related” to the police operation.
“It was further clarified that the steps already taken in regard to the mentioned police sergeant have nothing to do with any suggested tip off on the operation that led the arrest of the three accused,” the force said in a statement.
The murder that shocked Malta
Investigators say the men – who have been charged with murder and pleaded not guilty – detonated the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia using a mobile phone on a boat offshore.
Prosecutors are looking into the possibility that the murder was carried out by hitmen on the orders of someone angered by the journalist’s reporting.
One of her sons, Matthew, also an investigative journalist, accused the authorities of negligence for failing to prevent the “assassination”. He called Malta “a mafia state” where “a culture of impunity has been allowed to flourish by the government”.
Mr Muscat has vowed to fully investigate the case.