Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Maltese PM to step down over case of killed reporter

Maltese PM to step down over case of killed reporter

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People holding placards and photos of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia protest outside the office of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in the capital Valletta on Friday. AFP

Maltese PM to step down over case of killed reporter

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will step down on January 18, party sources said on Saturday, following mounting criticism of his response to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The announcement came as the main suspect in the 2017 car bomb killing, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, 38, was charged with complicity in the murder.

The court also ordered Fenech’s assets to be frozen as he was returned to custody.

Party insiders said Muscat would step down once those behind the killing had been charged and his Labour Party had chosen a new leader.

“He always said that he will be leaving soon, and he feels that now is the time to go,” said one party source.

However, first he wanted to see that the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder was solved under his watch, as he had promised, sources added.

“After the mastermind or masterminds are arraigned in court, he plans to announce that he will be stepping down and that there will be a leadership election on January 18,” a party source said.

The sources did not say when 45-year-old Muscat would announce his decision – or whether it would be via a televised announcement – but they stressed that he would not stay beyond January 18.

The news came amid mounting pressure from Caruana Galizia’s family and protesters on the streets, who have cried foul over his handling of the affair.

The escalating murder investigation has rocked the tiny Mediterranean island and reached the highest rungs of politics, with two ministers and Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri stepping down from their posts last week.

Fenech has identified Schembri as the mastermind behind Caruana Galizia’s killing, according to sources.

Schembri was arrested on Tuesday, but his release on Thursday sparked accusations of a cover-up.

Muscat, who has vowed to resign if links were found between himself and the murder, said on Friday that he would remain in power, telling reporters he wanted “this case to be closed under my watch”.

‘Judge, jury, and executioner’

But Caruana Galizia’s family, who have accused the prime minister of protecting his long-time chief of staff, have called for him to go.

“We share Malta’s shock and anger at the release of Keith Schembri. At least two witnesses and multiple pieces of physical evidence implicate Schembri in the assassination of our wife and mother,” the family said in a statement.

They accused Muscat of playing “judge, jury, and executioner in an assassination investigation that so far implicates three of his closest colleagues”.

Muscat said on Friday that he had recused himself from the decision on whether to grant immunity to Fenech.

The prime minister later said he had reported Fenech to the police for attempted blackmail, saying the mogul had threatened to implicate him in the affair if he was not given a pardon.

Fenech, a tycoon whose business interests span the energy and tourism sectors, was arrested on his yacht after an alleged middleman in the murder, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was offered a pardon to identify those involved.

That arrest was followed swiftly by the resignation of Schembri and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, while economy minister Chris Cardona said he was “suspending himself”.

Caruana Galizia, a popular journalist and blogger described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”, exposed cronyism and sleaze within the country’s political and business elite.

Before she was killed, she had alleged that Schembri and Mizzi had been involved in corruption.

She had named Cardona in a separate case.

Leaked emails revealed in court appeared to show that both Schembri and Mizzi stood to receive payments from a Dubai company called 17 Black, owned by Fenech.

A Maltese court was expected to rule on Monday on a request by Fenech for the chief investigator in the case, Keith Arnaud, to be removed, amid allegations he also had close ties to Schembri and the prime minister.

After his release on bail, Fenech told journalists that he feared for his life.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom’s domestic milk still cannot compete with imports

    Price competition and a lack of confidence by consumers are the main reasons the dairy market cannot compete with imports, said domestic milk producers. The large displays of imported fresh milk at the Kingdom’s supermarkets present a cumbersome obstacle for local producers, they said.

  • ‘Pesticide-laden cucumbers’ kill two, poison 150 in Banteay Meanchey

    At least two youths have died and 243 others are being treated for vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and muscle weakness after they ate cucumbers suspected to consist of pesticides. The incident happened on Saturday, said Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Ath Khem. He told The

  • Three dead, 13 injured in collapse at Siem Reap pagoda

    At least three people were killed and more than 10 others injured on Monday after a dining hall under construction collapsed at Prasat Kokchak pagoda in Kokchak commune, Siem Reap province. Provincial police chief Tith Narong said Military Police, soldiers and local volunteers had successfully recovered 16

  • Forest Harmony’s $18M luxury villas break ground in Kampot

    Local and French joint-venture Forest Harmony has broken ground on its $18 million “second-home” Luxury Holiday Villas project in Kampot province. Century 21 Mekong CEO and local shareholder of the project Chrek Soknim told The Post that the project will comprise 90 villa units covering 18ha on a 97

  • China Unicom enters Cambodia

    China Unicom, the country’s largest telecoms operator, has expanded into Cambodia to build optical telecommunication pathways in the Kingdom as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Hong Kong-listed company officially opened its China Unicom (Cambodia) subsidiary on Monday to become the

  • PP-SHV Expressway on track for completion in early 2023

    The construction of the $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which broke ground at the end of March, is on track to be completed by early 2023, Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman Vasim Sorya said on Monday. The 190km high-speed highway linking the capital to the