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FILE PHOTO - Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia poses outside the Libyan Embassy in Valletta April 6, 2011. Investigative journalist Caruana Galizia was killed after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing her in Bidnija, Malta, in October 16, 2017. Picture taken April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi(reuters_tickers)
By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers have raised concerns over money laundering in Malta and the independence of its police and judiciary in a draft resolution, stepping up pressure on the island after the assassination of an investigative journalist.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had denounced high-profile corruption and accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of wrongdoing, was killed on Oct. 16 by a bomb that tore through her car.
An investigation is under way and Muscat has promised that everything will be done to find the killers.
Next week the EU parliament will vote on a resolution on the rule of law in Malta.
In a draft text, seen by Reuters, the parliament said it "regrets that developments in Malta in recent years have led to serious concerns about the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights including freedom of the media and the independence of the police and judiciary".
It said that "the independence of law enforcement and the judiciary in Malta may be compromised by the fact that the government is empowered to appoint the Police Commissioner, the head of the FIAU (anti-money laundering agency) and the attorney-general".
The resolution called on the European Commission to oversee more closely respect for the rule of law in Malta and regretted the EU executive's decision not to publish its anti-corruption report this year.
At a news conference on Friday, the largest group in the parliament, the conservative European People's Party (EPP), called on the EU commission to "urgently" step up its monitoring of Malta.
"We think there are serious questions regarding the freedom of media and the lack of law enforcement in Malta," said Daniel Koster, an EPP spokesman.
He said the EPP had doubts about what the commission was doing to address this situation.
The calls from the conservatives were echoed by the liberal, leftist and green groupings in the assembly.
Reports from the Maltese anti-money laundering agency were leaked in June via Caruana Galizia's blog. They raised concerns about Pilatus Bank, a Maltese lender accused of having failed to report suspicious dealings as required by law.
The EU lawmakers' draft resolution calls on Malta to investigate Pilatus Bank. The bank and the Maltese police did not reply to Reuters' questions on the allegations.
"There appear to be no grounds to suspect a systematic breach," of money laundering rules in Malta, an EU Commission official told Reuters in reply to questions over the island's application of EU rules on money laundering.
The draft resolution, citing findings of the parliament's inquiry committee on money laundering, said Maltese institutions in charge of enforcing rules to prevent financial crimes were "highly politicised".
"The number of convictions and confiscations related to money laundering in Malta seems extremely low," it said.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Andrew Roche)