Maltese PM refuses to pardon businessman in journalist murder probe

Businessman Yorgen Fenech. [PHOTO CREDIT: Sky News]
Businessman Yorgen Fenech. [PHOTO CREDIT: Sky News]

A business tycoon who accused a former aide of Malta’s prime minister of commissioning the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was denied a presidential pardon on Friday.

Businessman Yorgen Fenech, who is himself a suspect in the murder investigation, had been seeking immunity from prosecution in exchange for information about the case.

But Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that there were no grounds to grant the pardon and that both the police commissioner and attorney general had advised against it.

Muscat made the announcement himself in a televised press conference at 3 am (0200 GMT) on Friday after an emergency cabinet meeting stretched into the early hours of the morning.

Maltese ministers were called to the prime minister’s office for an urgent cabinet meeting Thursday night as the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder intensified this week starting with the arrest of Fenech and reaching the upper echelons of Maltese politics.

Caruana Galizia was a Maltese investigative journalist who exposed government corruption in her blog.

She was assassinated in a car bomb explosion in Oct. 2017.

Fenech has alleged that the journalist’s assassination was the idea of Keith Schembri, who until Monday served as chief of staff to the prime minister, but resigned alongside two other government ministers this week after being linked to the criminal probe.

Schembri was arrested on Tuesday by investigators working on the case, but was released two days later without charge.

So far none of the ministers are facing charges.

The decision to release Schembri without charge prompted outrage among activists, who suspect he is being shielded from prosecution.

A group of protesters, including one of Caruana Galizia’s sons, remained outside the prime minister’s office throughout the night.

“There’s a complete information blackout. We know nothing.

“My family knows nothing. Journalists know nothing.

“The people know nothing. That’s why we’re here,” Matthew Caruana Galizia said.

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Fenech’s lawyers say that protecting his aide is motivation for the prime minister to deny their client’s request, and have written to Malta’s president asking him to issue a pardon directly.

According to The Times of Malta, a taxi driver has told police that he acted as a middleman between Fenech and Caruana Galizia’s alleged executioners.

The driver reportedly said he was given 150,000 euros (165,000 dollars) by Fenech to pay off the three men, who have been accused of carrying out the bombing and await trial.

A European Parliament delegation will also visit Malta to look into the latest revelations about the murder case, a member of the EU assembly said on Thursday.

“The Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament has just agreed to send an urgent mission to look at the rule of law in Malta,” German Green politician Sven Giegold said.

Giegold said questions concerning the independence of Malta’s judiciary and “severe allegations of corruption at the highest levels” made a European Parliament mission to the country essential.

“The priority of the Parliament mission must be to investigate all potential links to the Prime Minister who has protected and defended these ministers for so long,” he added. (dpa/NAN)


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