Malta’s leader to re­sign as probe of jour­nal­ist’s death in­ten­si­fies

Killing has en­snared the coun­try’s elite, in­clud­ing prime min­is­ter’s ex-aide

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY CHICO HAR­LAN chico.har­[email protected]­post.com

Maltese Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat an­nounced Sun­day that he would step down next month, af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2017 killing of an anti-cor­rup­tion jour­nal­ist raised ques­tions about the role of his former chief of staff and en­snared other mem­bers of the coun­try’s elite.

“This is what the coun­try needs at the mo­ment,” Mus­cat said in a na­tion­ally tele­vised ad­dress. He said he would re­sign as leader of his own party on Jan. 12 and step down as prime min­is­ter of the Mediter­ranean is­land nation of half a mil­lion peo­ple in “the days af­ter.”

The de­ci­sion was the largest po­lit­i­cal con­vul­sion yet in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the car bomb death of Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia, a widely read in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who fo­cused on the cor­rup­tion of Maltese politi­cians and other power bro­kers.

Malta, the small­est mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union, has never faced a com­pa­ra­ble po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. The full story of how Caru­ana Gal­izia’s killing was or­ches­trated re­mains un­clear, but pro­test­ers in re­cent days had called for Mus­cat’s res­ig­na­tion, say­ing he was pre­sid­ing over a coun­try where coverup and im­punity reigned.

Mus­cat ad­mit­ted no per­sonal wrong­do­ing.

“I un­der­stand that for this to hap­pen there is a need for a clear sig­nal of a fresh page, and this sig­nal can be given only by me, as I need to shoul­der ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, even where I am not in­volved,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the Times of Malta.

Mus­cat has been prime min­is­ter since 2013, pre­sid­ing over a pe­riod of rel­a­tive pros­per­ity, twice win­ning ru­n­away elec­tions.

But the nation has come to be dom­i­nated by the Caru­ana Gal­izia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly in re­cent weeks as it has picked up steam. The cen­tral de­vel­op­ment has been the ar­rest two weeks ago of a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man, Yor­gen Fenech, who was de­tained by armed of­fi­cers on his yacht af­ter what Maltese me­dia de­scribed as an at­tempt to flee the coun­try.

Fenech, who has been charged with com­plic­ity in the mur­der, had re­quested im­mu­nity in ex­change for re­veal­ing in­for­ma­tion about Mus­cat’s former chief of staff and other top gov­ern­ment fig­ures. Malta’s gov­ern­ment has turned down Fenech’s re­quest.

Some of his in­for­ma­tion has re­port­edly been un­re­li­able, but crit­ics said the de­ci­sion was a way to shield gov­ern­ment high­erups.

Mus­cat’s chief of staff, Keith

Schem­bri, re­signed from his po­si­tion on Tues­day and was held by po­lice for two days last week be­fore be­ing re­leased. He has de­nied wrong­do­ing.

Fenech has been iden­ti­fied by Maltese au­thor­i­ties as the owner of a se­cre­tive Dubai com­pany, 17 Black. Ac­cord­ing to a report on the jour­nal­ist’s killing by the Coun­cil of Europe, 17 Black was ex­pected to make “large monthly pay­ments” to se­cret Pana­ma­nian com­pa­nies owned by Schem­bri and a Maltese en­ergy min­is­ter.

Caru­ana Gal­izia had dis­cov­ered the al­leged peo­ple be­hind those com­pa­nies as part of her work. In her last post, pub­lished on her per­sonal blog just be­fore the car bomb was det­o­nated re­motely, she called Schem­bri a

“crook.”

Months af­ter her death, three men were ar­rested on ac­cu­sa­tions of plant­ing the car bomb.

Crit­ics said Mus­cat, a close friend of Schem­bri, needed to step down im­me­di­ately for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to have cred­i­bil­ity. Reuters re­ported that Mus­cat kept Schem­bri in brief­ings about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion even af­ter Fenech, with links to Schem­bri, had been iden­ti­fied as a sus­pect in the mur­der.

Op­po­si­tion leader Adrian Delia said his party would not par­tic­i­pate in any events at which Mus­cat is present.

“Jus­tice can­not be served with an il­le­git­i­mate Prime Min­is­ter at the helm,” Delia wrote on Twit­ter.

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