VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta’s police chief has quit following criticism of his handling of the investigation into the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
New Prime Minister Robert Abela announced Lawrence Cutajar’s resignation as police commissioner at a news conference on Friday, four days after he took office with a pledge to strengthen the rule of law on the Mediterranean island.
“In his resignation letter, Mr Cutajar wrote that the appointment of a new prime minister demanded change so that necessary reforms to the (police) force could start taking place,” Abela said, praising Cutajar for his work.
Cutajar was appointed by Abela’s predecessor, Joseph Muscat, who stepped down after criticism over Caruana Galizia’s 2017 murder and after the middleman in the murder plot linked people in Muscat’s inner circle to attempts at an alleged cover-up.
Police have charged three men suspected of planting the car bomb that killed Caruana Galizia, and a fourth suspected of masterminding the killing.
But there had been calls for Cutajar’s removal for not doing more to investigate an aide to Muscat over his contacts with a businessman accused of complicity in the killing, though both the official and the businessman deny wrongdoing.
Paul Caruana Galizia, one of the murdered journalist’s sons, welcomed Cutajar’s departure and activists representing pressure group Occupy Justice said it was “long overdue”.
Abela told the news conference he would consult the opposition over the appointment of the next police commissioner.
Abela said late on Thursday he had instructed government workers not to remove flowers and candles from a makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia, who had repeatedly denounced corruption at the highest levels of government.
Abela also announced the appointment of a cabinet committee to discuss governance issues and propose changes in line with proposals made by a Council of Europe committee which visited Malta last year. The committee had said the prime minister has too many powers, including the power to nominate judges.
(Reporting Christopher Scicluna, editing by Timothy Heritage)