Rights Court Nixes Maltese Businessman’s Jail Complaints

Europe’s human rights court said Malta didn’t violate the rights of a businessman accused of masterminding the killing of a journalist when he was held in jail for three months while proceedings against him were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

(CN) — Europe’s human rights court on Tuesday said there was no basis to a Maltese businessman’s complaints that he was unfairly held in prison on charges he orchestrated the assassination of an investigative journalist.

Businessman Yorgen Fenech brought a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights alleging Maltese authorities violated his rights by keeping him in custody while criminal proceedings against him were delayed for three months by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fenech is awaiting trial on charges he masterminded a car bombing that killed anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. Her killing led to the collapse of Malta’s government in December 2019 after top politicians were implicated in the killing. Caruana Galizia, described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” exposed corruption and cronyism on the Mediterranean island nation, a member of the European Union.

In February, one of three men accused of planting the car bomb pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Vincent Muscat described how he and two others accused in the killing were paid to kill the journalist and used binoculars and a telescope to spy on her before planting and detonating the bomb.

Fenech is a wealthy property and energy businessman and owner of 17 Black, a Dubai company that Caruana Galizia wrote about. He has denied the charges against him. He was arrested in November 2019 as he was sailing away from Malta on his yacht.

After his arrest, Fenech was placed in custody at the Corradino Correctional Facility.

His initial requests for bail were rejected on the grounds that there was a risk he might tamper with evidence, the Strasbourg-based human rights court said. He also was refused bail because of the concern that his release would spark public disorder, the court noted.

After criminal proceedings were suspended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fenech complained that he was being unlawfully detained and that his detention put his health at risk because he had previously lost a kidney. Authorities said the courtroom proceedings were suspended to prevent people from getting infected by the virus. Criminal proceedings were continued in June.

Malta’s constitutional court rejected his complaints that he had been unlawfully detained when proceedings were suspended. On Tuesday, Europe’s human rights court agreed and said his complaint was “manifestly ill-founded.”

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

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