Friday 6 December 2019

Calls for Maltese prime minister to go as friend held in murder probe

Murdered: Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing has sparked outrage. Photo: Reuters
Murdered: Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing has sparked outrage. Photo: Reuters

Stephen Grey and Chris Scicluna

A prominent Maltese businessman has told police that former government chief of staff Keith Schembri was the mastermind behind the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, two people briefed on the investigation said yesterday.

Mr Schembri was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the case. He has not issued any statement since his detention but has previously always denied any connection to the killing of Ms Caruana Galizia, who wrote extensively about corruption.

Mr Schembri's lawyers were not available for comment yesterday.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, a close personal friend of Mr Schembri, told reporters he hoped the murder investigation would be wrapped up within "the next few hours".

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The two-year-old investigation has accelerated dramatically this month after fresh evidence was uncovered, leading to the arrest last week of businessman Jorgen Fenech, who was stopped as he tried to leave Malta on his luxury yacht.

According to police and legal sources with direct knowledge of the probe, Mr Fenech is seeking legal immunity in return for testimony that would implicate Mr Schembri and reveal a wide scheme of corruption on the island implicating senior politicians.

Under the law, a pardon can only be issued by the president, on the recommendation of Mr Muscat's cabinet.

The sources did not indicate whether Mr Fenech had provided any evidence to suggest that Mr Schembri had masterminded Ms Caruana Galizia's murder.

Neither Mr Fenech nor his lawyers has made any public comment since his arrest.

Mr Muscat repeatedly dismissed accusations of wrongdoing levelled at his inner circle over the past few years and is now facing growing calls to resign because of his alleged failure to hold friends and colleagues to account.

His tourism minister quit earlier this week while the economy minister suspended himself from the government as the murder probe continued. Both denied involvement in the case that has raised questions about the rule of law in Malta.

"We are calling for [Muscat] to assume responsibility and resign from his leadership, from his premiership, and a new prime minister be appointed," said Karol Aquilina, an opposition lawmaker and a lawyer for Ms Caruana Galizia's family.

Mr Muscat has refused to stand down, saying Malta needs stability.

The government has already granted a pardon in the case to Malvin Theuma, the alleged middleman in the plot, who was arrested two weeks ago in a money laundering investigation and immediately offered information on the Ms Caruana Galizia murder.

The journalist was killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017. Three men were arrested shortly afterwards and are awaiting trial for having allegedly set off the explosion.

Ms Caruana Galizia had revealed the existence of a secret company, 17 Black, owned by Mr Fenech, which was named in emails as being a vehicle for depositing money into the accounts of Panama companies owned by ex-tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and Mr Schembri.

There is no evidence that money changed hands and Mr Mizzi has said there are no links between him and 17 Black.

Irish Independent

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