Three senior officials in Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat’s government have stepped down in connection with a probe into the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Press reports have linked tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, economy minister Chris Cardona and Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri to the Caruana Galizia investigation. All three deny any wrongdoing.
Their resignations yesterday follow the arrest last week of Maltese hotelier and power company director Yorgen Fenech in relation to the case.
In her blog, Caruana Galizia wrote boldly about corruption and investigated the affairs of Maltese politicians and business figures, as well as those doing business with the European Union member.
Eight months before she was killed by a car bomb in October 2017, Caruana Galizia alleged in her blog that a company called 17 Black Ltd, listed in the Panama Papers, was connected to Maltese politicians. The company belonged to Fenech.
Cardona said he was stepping down pending the investigation and the ongoing proceedings related to Caruana Galizia’s case. He was summoned by police for questioning last Saturday.
Cardona said he had “absolutely no connection with the case”, but added that after police asked for further clarifications, he felt “duty-bound to take this step in the national interest”.
Mizzi said he was resigning “in the national interest”. He reiterated that he had no business connection with Fenech, and no connection with 17 Black.
Muscat himself announced the resignation of his chief of staff Schembri, but told reporters it was premature to speculate on “whether he is being questioned or what he is being questioned about”.
He added, however, that the timing of the resignation was “unfortunate”.
Schembri had served as Muscat’s chief of staff since 2013.
Muscat on Friday described the investigation as “the biggest our country has seen”, but contended that no politicians were tied to the journalist‘s murder.
Three people were arrested in December 2017 on suspicion of detonating the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia, 53, as she drove near her home. The trial has not yet begun.
Ten campaign groups yesterday published an open letter urging a stop to what they called “undue executive interference” in the murder investigation due to the way Muscat has acted as the main conduit for information to the press.
The groups, including Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists and Transparency International, wrote: “The financial interests of Muscat’s cabinet present the serious possibility of a conflict of interest for the Prime Minister with regard to the investigation.”
The letter also pointed out that Muscat himself is continuing to pursue libel cases against Caruana Galizia and her family through the courts.
It went on: “The whole truth concerning the circumstances and accountability for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia must emerge.
“There must be transparency from the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General. The investigation must be independent, impartial and free of all political influence.”
Picture: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi