Top Maltese officials quit amid probe into reporter’s murder

International

FILE – This April 4, 2016 file photo shows Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta on Oct. 16, 2017. Maltese authorities say a man arrested in a money-laundering case claims to have information identifying the mastermind behind the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. (AP Photo/Jon Borg, File)

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Three senior officials in Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government stepped down Tuesday 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 follow the arrest last week of Maltese hotelier and power company director Yorgen Fenech in relation with 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, the businessman.

Fenech was arrested a day after Muscat revealed that an unidentified man offered to provide details about the murder if he was given immunity of all crimes he committed. The immunity was given on Monday on condition that his evidence is corroborated in a court of law.

Economy Minister Cardona said Tuesday 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, the tourism minister, said he was resigning “in the national interest.” He reiterated that he had no business connection with Fenech, and no connection with 17 Black.

Prime Minister Muscat himself announced the resignation of his chief of staff Schembri.

Asked of the reasons behind Schembri’s decision, Muscat 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 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 53-year-old Caruana Galizia as she drove near her home. The trial has not yet begun, and the mastermind has yet to be identified.

Caruana Galizia’s family said Tuesday that Schembri should be prosecuted “immediately.”

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