45ºF

Family of slain journalist presses Malta’s PM to resign

VALLETTA – The family of a journalist who was killed by a car bomb in Malta is urging Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to resign, after his former chief aide was released from jail in a probe aimed at finding the mastermind of the 2017 murder.

Muscat said Friday that police found no grounds to hold Keith Schembri, his former chief of staff in custody. The family of the slain journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, said in a tweet that “we share Malta’s shock and anger” that the ex-aide was released from jail a day earlier.

“This travesty of justice is shaming our country, ripping our society apart, and it is degrading us,” one of Daphne’s sons, Paul Caruana Galizia, said in a tweet. “It cannot continue any longer.”

“We urge the prime minister to step aside and let an unconflicted deputy take over. If the prime minister has the interests of justice and Malta at heart, then he should do so immediately.”

Maltese media were reporting that Muscat’s resignation could be imminent.

Thousands of Maltese on the Mediterranean island nation of some 400,000 people have been turning out nightly outside Muscat’s office calling on the prime minister to step down.

Muscat’s office denied Maltese media reports claiming that the prime minister’s Cabinet had lost faith in him, describing them “as total invention.”

The prime minister “will remain focused on the priority of the country to close one of the biggest criminal cases in history,’’ his office said in a statement.

Schembri, who resigned his post when questioned earlier in the week, has denied any wrongdoing related to the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed as the car she was driving near her home blew up.

She had written extensively about suspected corruption in political and business circles in the EU nation.

Three men have been arrested for carrying out the bombing. No trial date has been set.

Last week, police took into custody a Maltese hotelier as he tried to flee Malta on his yacht. The jailed businessman, Yorgen Fenech, provided information about Schembri, reportedly in a bid to win immunity.

But Muscat told reporters early Friday that the police commissioner and the attorney general recommended that “there is not sufficient reason to grant a presidential pardon.”

Muscat did not give details about why police came to that conclusion.

"The police commissioner and the attorney general's detailed recommendation is that there is not sufficient reason to grant a presidential pardon to Yorgen Fenech,” Muscat said. He added that his Cabinet unanimously agreed with that recommendation.

The lack of information frustrated the slain reporter’s family.

Fenech “does not need a presidential pardon for the police to charge Schembri,” the family said in the tweet.

In an unrelated case which added to Muscat’s woes, a Maltese court on Friday ruled that Finance Minister Edward Scicluna be investigated for a deal in which the government privatized three public hospitals.

The court also ruled investigations were in order in the hospital transfer deal of two politicians who resigned ministry posts earlier this week. Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi had resigned from their Cabinet positions, in connection with the car bomb probe. New reports have linked the two men to the murder investigation. Cardona and Mizzi have denied wrongdoing in connection with the bombing.