Malta’s PM expected to quit in scandal over journalist’s murder

Report says Joseph Muscat plans to resign in crisis over killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat:  Spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report that he planned to resign. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat: Spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report that he planned to resign. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

 

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat has told associates he plans to resign over the political and legal crisis stemming from the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Times of Malta reported on Friday.

Mr Muscat’s spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report. His Labour Party cancelled an event scheduled for Sunday at which Mr Muscat was set to speak.

Mr Muscat’s chief of staff and two members of the cabinet have already stepped aside this week over the murder case, which threatens to bring down the island nation’s close-knit elite.

Caruana Galizia, a campaigning journalist who investigated corruption, was killed in a car bomb on October 16th, 2017. Her family demanded on Friday that Mr Muscat resign, after his right hand man Keith Schembri was set free overnight.

Mr Schembri, who quit as Mr Muscat’s chief of staff and was held for questioning in the case this week, denies wrongdoing. Police said they no longer needed him held for their investigation.

Caruana Galizia’s family said Mr Muscat should not preside over an investigation that implicates three of his closest colleagues.

“This travesty of justice is shaming our country, ripping our society apart, and it is degrading us. It cannot continue any longer,” the family said in a statement.

Mr Muscat has previously rebuffed calls to quit.

“I will not abdicate my responsibilities. Malta needs stable leadership and I will continue to take decisions in the interests of the country and will not protect anyone,” he said.

His spokesman said Mr Muscat would make an announcement “in due course”.

“The PM has pledged various times he wants to see this case through,” he said.

Roberta Metsola, a Maltese member of the European Parliament, said in a tweet: “If only #DaphneCaruanaGalizia was alive to see that even after they assassinated her, she brought the criminals down in disgrace.”

Three men have been awaiting trial for setting the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia but so far the authorities have failed to track down the person who hired them.

Middleman

The case has moved quickly in recent weeks since a middleman suspected of introducing the killers to the person who ordered the hit was pardoned in return for testimony.

Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, argues with a policeman as protesters wait for prime minister Joseph Muscat to leave a cabinet meeting in Valletta early on Friday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters
Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, argues with a policeman as protesters wait for prime minister Joseph Muscat to leave a cabinet meeting in Valletta early on Friday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

Earlier on Friday, Mr Muscat’s cabinet turned down a request to pardon a businessman, Yorgen Fenech, over the murder in return for testimony that Mr Fenech’s lawyers said would implicate senior government figures, including Mr Schembri.

Mr Fenech, who was arrested last week while trying to leave the island in his yacht, was also freed on bail on Friday.

He appeared in court later for a hearing at which he hopes to remove the lead investigator from the case for his alleged links to Mr Schembri, the former chief of staff to the prime minister. He will be questioned by police again tomorrow.

“I fear for my life, I’m ready to go all the way for justice to prevail and the truth to come out,” Fenech told reporters outside the court.

The investigation focuses on Mr Fenech, a businessman whose empire included property, retail, hospitality, gambling and energy companies. He handed the business reins to his brother a day before attempting to leave Malta.

In a letter to the president, Mr Fenech’s lawyers said he was prepared to give information involving Mr Schembri and two cabinet ministers – tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and economy minister Chris Cardona. Mr Mizzi resigned on Tuesday and Mr Cardona has suspended himself from his duties. All three deny wrongdoing.

‘Political interference’

Dunja Mijatovic, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, said she was “seriously concerned by recent allegations of political interference in the investigation” and called on Mr Muscat to prevent the appearance of collusion.

Before she was killed, Caruana Galizia had revealed the existence of a secret offshore company called 17 Black. A Reuters investigation last year revealed Mr Fenech was the owner of the company, named in emails as a vehicle to fund secret Panama companies owned by Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi.

There is no evidence that money changed hands and Mr Mizzi has said there are no links between him and Mr Fenech’s company. Mr Cardona has also denied involvement.

One of Fenech’s companies formed part of a consortium which was awarded a government contract in 2015 to build a power station. Other partners in that consortium included SOCAR of Azerbeijan and Siemens. Siemens and SOCAR have both denied their staff was involved in wrongdoing. – Reuters