Murdered reporter: Maltese PM under pressure to resign … Ministers, CoS quit
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat came under increasing pressure to resign Friday as protesters cried foul over the latest twist in the case of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
An intensifying probe into the murder of Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in October 2017, has destabilised his government.
The Times of Malta said Muscat told associates Friday he plans to resign imminently, though AFP was not able to immediately confirm the report.
This week saw two ministers and Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri step down from their posts. Arrested on Tuesday, Schembri was released on Thursday, sparking accusations of a cover-up.
Early Friday, Muscat said the main suspect in Galizia’s killing, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, would not be granted immunity to disclose what he knows about the case. He was later released on bail.
“Every minute (Muscat) remains in office he increases the risk of justice not being done,” opposition leader Adrian Delia said.
– ‘Judge, jury, executioner’ –
Muscat has been heavily criticised over the handling of the case, amid allegations he has obstructed justice by protecting high-profile politicians. Earlier this week he vowed to resign if links were found between himself and the murder.
He insisted early Friday that he would remain in power, telling reporters he wanted “this case to be closed under my watch”.
His comments infuriated protesters. Fresh demonstrations were planned for later Friday.
“We share Malta’s shock and anger at the release of Keith Schembri,” the Caruana Galizia family said in a statement.
“At least two witnesses and multiple pieces of physical evidence implicate Schembri in the assassination of our wife and mother,” they said.
They accused Muscat of playing “judge, jury, and executioner in an assassination investigation that so far implicates three of his closest colleagues.”
– ‘Attempted blackmail’ –
Muscat said he had recused himself from the decision over Fenech, since the suspect under police interrogation had identified Schembri as the mastermind behind Caruana Galizia’s killing, according to sources.
He later said in a statement that he had reported Fenech to the police for attempted blackmail, saying the mogul had threatened to implicate him in the affair if he was not given immunity.
Fenech, a tycoon whose business interests span the energy and tourism sectors, was arrested on his yacht last week after an alleged middleman in the murder, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was offered a pardon to identify those involved.
That arrest was followed swiftly by the resignation of Schembri and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, while economy minister Chris Cardona said he was “suspending himself”.
Caruana Galizia, who exposed cronyism and sleaze within the country’s political and business elite, had alleged that Schembri and then economy minister Mizzi had been involved in corruption. She had named Cardona in a separate case.
Leaked emails revealed in court appeared to show both Schembri and Mizzi stood to receive payments from a Dubai company called 17 Black, owned by Fenech.
The Caruana Galizia family expressed incredulity over Schembri’s release, pointing to the fact the former chief of staff and Fenech have the same doctor, who reportedly served as an intermediary, passing secret notes between them.
– ‘Fear for my life’ –
A Maltese court heard a request by Fenech Friday for the chief investigator in the case, Keith Arnaud, to be removed, amid allegations he had close ties to Schembri and the prime minister. A decision was expected on Monday.
“I fear for my life. I’m ready to go all the way for justice to prevail and the truth to come out,” Fenech said to journalists.
His lawyer told the court there was proof of ties between Schembri and Theuma, including a photo of the pair “hugging” in the prime minister’s office. Schembri’s release was “scary” and suggested Arnaud was not impartial, the lawyer said.
The death of Caruana Galizia has raised grave concerns internationally over the rule of law on the tiny Mediterranean island.
“This is happening in the EU, right now. Where is the voice of the European Commission or other EU leaders?” Robert Barrington, former head of Transparency International in the UK, said on Twitter.
The European Parliament is planning to send a mission to Malta “as soon as possible”, a parliament source told AFP.
The Institute of Maltese Journalists filed a complaint Friday alleging reporters had been locked in a room at the PM’s office in an apparent bid to stop them speaking to cabinet members after the decision not to grant Fenech immunity. Punch