Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing © Reuters

Malta’s prime minister has hit back at allegations triggered by the murder of a prominent investigative journalist that his government has hijacked core state institutions in the EU’s smallest state.

Joseph Muscat told the Financial Times that the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia was a “wake-up call” and said he would defend his record if needed at a meeting of European leaders on Thursday. 

The killing of Caruana Galizia in a car bombing this week has shocked the Mediterranean island nation and drawn condemnation across Europe, including from Mr Muscat. It has also intensified criticism of what the government’s detractors say is a slide in the rule of law under the premier’s scandal-hit four-year administration. 

“This is not a country where the government is trying to hijack institutions,” Mr Muscat said. “[But] I think this is a wake-up call for everyone — to understand that everyone is watching us, and to understand that the pace of change needs to be faster.” 

Mr Muscat said in an interview that he would point to his government’s record on institutional reform should concerns about the police and justice system be raised at the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.

Caruana Galizia had written extensively about alleged corruption involving Maltese officials. Mr Muscat had rejected graft allegations levelled against him by the journalist. The prime minister said all corruption allegations were being properly investigated, including those made against him.

Asked if he thought Caruana Galizia’s murder had triggered a crisis of confidence in his administration’s governance of Malta, he said: “I wouldn’t want to think that an assessment of a member state is based on one event.”

He added: “I believe my colleagues know who I am and what I stand for.” 

Jason Azzopardi, an opposition MP and former minister, branded Mr Muscat’s defence of his government an “outright lie”. 

“The institutions have been hijacked, the rule of law is dead and buried,” Mr Azzopardi said. 

Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, has denounced the Muscat government for allowing a “culture of impunity” to flourish in the country. His mother had written just before she died about Malta’s “desperate” corruption problem. 

She alleged this year that a business owned by the Azerbaijan president’s daughter had paid more than $1m to a Panamanian company beneficially owned by the prime minister’s wife. Both the premier and his wife have denied wrongdoing. 

Caruana Galizia had won a wide following and been targeted by multiple lawsuits from Maltese public figures for her coverage. Adrian Delia, the opposition leader, had also rejected corruption claims she made against him. 

The conservative European People’s party group in the European Parliament this week branded the murder “tragic proof” of the deteriorating situation in Malta. 

The European Commission did not respond to a request for comment about whether it planned any action on Malta.

Twitter @mikepeeljourno

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