Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Friday the main suspect in the 2017 killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia would not be granted immunity to disclose what he knows about the case.
After an emergency cabinet meeting that dragged on for more than six hours through the night, Muscat told reporters the decision to deny an immunity request for suspect Yorgen Fenech followed the recommendations of the attorney general and police commissioner.
An intensifying probe into the murder of Caruana Galizia, who was blown up by a car bomb in October 2017, has destabilised Muscat’s government.
This week two ministers and chief of staff Keith Schembri have stepped down from their posts.
The death of Caruana Galizia – a popular journalist and blogger described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks" who exposed corruption in Malta – shocked the country and sparked protests for justice.
Muscat said he 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.
"Yorgen Fenech asked for a pardon for the second time after making allegations about Keith Schembri so I did not want to shoulder the responsibility myself and called in the cabinet," Muscat told reporters, saying their decision was unanimous.
On Thursday evening, as Muscat and his ministers met behind closed doors, police said Schembri – who was arrested on Tuesday – had been released.
– Political fallout – Muscat has been heavily criticised over the government’s handling of the case, and on Tuesday vowed to resign if links were found between himself and the murder.
On Friday he said his government was "committed to investigate all allegations of illegalities."
"I want this case to be closed under my watch," said Muscat.
The political fallout of the investigation gathered momentum on Tuesday as Schembri resigned, as did tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, while economy minister Chris Cardona said he was "suspending himself".
Fenech, a tycoon whose business interests span the energy and tourism sectors, was arrested on his yacht last week after a middleman in the murder, Melvin Theuma, was offered a pardon to identify those involved.
On Thursday, Fenech filed a request in court to remove the chief investigator in the case, Keith Arnaud, alleging that he had been informing Schembri of details in the murder probe.
Fenech also alleged that Arnaud had a conflict of interest, having previously sought the chief of staff’s help in finding a job for his wife.
Caruana Galizia, who exposed cronyism and sleaze within the country’s political and business elite, had alleged that Schembri and Mizzi had been involved in corruption.
Leaked emails revealed in court appeared to show both politicians stood to receive payments from a Dubai company called 17 Black, owned by Fenech.
The family of Caruana Galizia has called for Muscat to resign, saying he has "blood on his hands" for protecting Schembri and Mizzi.
The European Parliament will send a mission to Malta, according to German Greens MEP Sven Giegold.
A new mission was warranted given "questions around the independence of the judicial system and severe allegations of corruption at the highest levels", said Giegold, who went to the Mediterranean island on a similar assignment after Caruana Galizia’s death, in a statement.
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