Journalist Murder Probe Reaches Malta’s Political Leadership

Forensic police work on Oct. 19, 2017, in Bidnija, Malta, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)

(CN) – An investigation into the car-bomb killing of a Maltese anti-corruption journalist has led to the arrest of the prime minister’s former chief of staff.

On Wednesday, Maltese media reported that police arrested Keith Schembri and questioned him in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was killed by a car bomb outside her home in October 2017.

On Monday, Schembri resigned as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff, a position he had held since 2013 when Muscat’s Labour party came into power. Police questioned him over allegations that he was a co-conspirator in Caruana Galizia’s murder, local media reported.

This April 2016 photo shows Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb on Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Jon Borg, File)

The Times of Malta reported that Yorgen Fenech, a prominent Maltese businessman arrested last week, told investigators that Schembri was the mastermind behind the killing of Caruana Galizia. The newspaper reported that police were treating the businessman’s claims with caution.

Fenech’s arrest a week ago sent shockwaves across the small island nation and prompted demands for Muscat to resign. As they have been for most of the past week, large crowds of protesters were out on Wednesday evening to demand the prime minister’s resignation. They chanted, “Joseph, out” and “Daphne was right,” according to the Times of Malta.

Besides Schembri, two other top Maltese officials stepped down this week over the murder investigation.

The Times of Malta reported that leaked documents showed Fenech’s offshore company called 17 Black funneled funds to other offshore companies set up by Schembri and a government minister.

Since Caruana Galizia’s murder, Muscat has come under intense criticism both within Malta and outside the southern European country for his government’s response to the murder. Maltese authorities have been accused of failing to properly investigate the case and failing to protect Caruana Galizia even though she was the subject of intimidation and threats.

Besides reporting on Fenech and his ties to politicians close to Muscat, Caruana Galizia also revealed that Muscat’s wife held a company in Panama, as exposed in the so-called Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents revealed how rich and powerful people used tax havens to hide their wealth.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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