Malta's PM expected to quit in crisis over journalist's murder

By Juliette Garside in Valletta

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, has told associates he plans to resign imminently, the Times of Malta has reported.

His decision was brought on by the political and legal crisis arising from the investigation into the 2017 murder of the prominent anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the newspaper reported.

After two years of stalled investigations into the murder, the authorities in the Mediterranean country have moved rapidly in recent days, destabilising Muscat’s government. Earlier on Friday Muscat had vowed to stay in the job until the investigation was complete.

This week, two ministers and Muscat’s chief of staff stepped down from their posts. The chief of staff, Keith Shembri, was arrested on Tuesday and released late on Thursday without being charged. He denies any wrongdoing.

Early on Friday, Muscat’s cabinet turned down a request for pardon by the main suspect in the killing, the businessman Yorgen Fenech, in return for information about alleged conspirators. Fenech was detained while trying to leave Malta on his yacht last week.

Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed on 16 October 2017 when a bomb placed under the driver’s seat of her rental car was remotely detonated.

In February 2016, she had used a leak of offshore information known as the Panama Papers to reveal that Muscat’s energy minister, Konrad Mizzi, and his friend Schembri had become the beneficiaries of secretive Panama shell companies shortly after entering office.

The EU’s smallest member state has come under unprecedented international scrutiny, with politicians across Europe raising concerns about the rule of law.

During a hearing for Fenech on Thursday, his lawyers deposited in court a letter to Malta’s president, George Vella, formally asking for a pardon. It stated that Fenech was ready to supply information related to, among others, Schembri, Mizzi and Chris Cardona, who suspended himself from the post of economy minister earlier this week. The letter described all those he was prepared to give evidence against as being “close to the prime minister”.

Cardona declared upon resigning that he had “absolutely no connection with the case”, but had decided to step back “in the national interest” after being questioned by police last weekend. Mizzi, who resigned on Tuesday, said he had not committed any crime but was leaving “in light of political, extraordinary and general circumstances in the country”. Shembri’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.