Two senior politicians in Malta's government resigned on November 26th, with a third "suspending himself," AFP reported. The resignations are the biggest political fallout so far from a widening probe into the murder in 2017 of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia.
One of those who resigned, Keith Schembri, the chief of staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, has been arrested and questioned over allegations that he was a co-conspirator in the car bomb assassination of Caruana Galizia near her home two years ago. Added to the resignation of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, pressure is mounting on the government over its handling of the journalist’s murder.
Sources told AFP that Schembri’s arrest happened after he was singled out by the main suspect in the case, prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech.
Fenech, who was arrested on his yacht last week as he tried to leave the island, has requested a presidential pardon to reveal what he knows. He was released on bail on Tuesday.
Investigators suspect Schembri may have alerted Fenech, prompting the failed escape bid, Maltese media reported.
PM Muscat refused to say what lay behind Schembri's decision to resign, telling reporters it was too early to speculate.
In another blow to the government on Tuesday, Economy Minister Chris Cardona's office said he was "suspending himself with immediate effect from his position as minister, pending the investigations.”
Caruana Galizia was a popular journalist and blogger described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks.” She acquired a reputation for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta's political and business elite.
She had alleged that both Schembri, who has served as Muscat's chief of staff since 2013, and Mizzi had been involved in corruption, claims which both men have denied.
Much of her investigative work related to what the 2016 Panama Papers data leak revealed about high-level corruption in Malta, including connections between politicians and a Gulf-based company called 17 Black.
Leaked emails related to the Panama Papers appeared to show that companies owned by Schembri and Mizzi stood to receive payments from 17 Black, which was later found to be owned by Fenech.
The arrest of Fenech followed that of a middleman in the murder, Melvin Theuma, who on Tuesday was granted immunity to talk.
Although three men are in custody facing trial for carrying out the murder, the mastermind has never been identified.
The Council of Europe's special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt, appointed in 2018 to monitor the investigation, said Tuesday's developments raised "urgent questions" for the prime minister.