Daphne Caruana Galizia: police quiz Malta PM's ex-chief of staff

The Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff, who resigned this week, spent Tuesday night in police custody being questioned in relation to the murder of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Keith Schembri, a businessman who has run the office of the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, since the Malta Labour party came to power in 2013, was arrested on Tuesday, police sources confirmed.

It is understood he is being questioned about allegations made by the businessman Yorgen Fenech, who was arrested last week after trying to leave Malta onboard his yacht, that he was a co-conspirator in the murder of Caruana Galizia.

Fenech, who is himself under suspicion for his involvement in the killing, is understood to have provided evidence that implicates Schembri in the hope of receiving a presidential pardon for helping secure the conviction.

Caruana Galizia’s family said they were seeking an urgent meeting with the attorney general, Peter Grech, in an effort to prevent Fenech from being granted a pardon. “We urgently want to clarify the situation,” the family confirmed.

An official in the attorney general’s office said he would meet the family to discuss their concerns.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Malta’s best-known investigative journalist was killed in a car bomb as she left her home in October 2017.

Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat

Three men in their fifties arrested in December 2017 and then formally charged in July 2019 with Caruana Galizia’s murder, criminal conspiracy and the criminal use of explosives.

Melvin Theuma

A taxi driver from Birkirkara and suspected middleman in the Caruana Galizia case, he was arrested on 14 November 2019 in a separate anti-money laundering case. He has offered to provide information he says he has on the journalist’s death in exchange for a pardon.

Yorgen Fenech

A prominent businessman arrested onboard his yacht as a person of interest in the Caruana Galizia investigation on 20 November. One of the journalist’s final investigations was a leak of data from his businesses. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi

The Maltese PM’s chief of staff and the country’s tourism minister resigned on 25 and 26 November respectively. Caruana Galizia reported that they had taken control of secretive Panama shell companies soon after entering office. They deny any wrongdoing.

Joseph Muscat

Malta’s prime minister since 2013, he has been criticised by opposition politicians for allowing Schembri and Mizzi to stay in their posts. On 26 November he said he would “definitely resign if there is any sort of association between myself and the murder”. 

Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/X01097

Schembri’s lawyer, Edward Gatt, did not respond to a request for comment. Malta police have made no statement.

The revelation will add to the pressure on Muscat to step down. The prime minister lost a key ally Wednesday, when the influential newspaper Malta Today withdrew its support. The paper’s co-owner was known to be close to Muscat.

“Joseph Muscat’s moral authority has been compromised to the point of no return,” the paper’s executive editor wrote in a scathing editorial. “The stage is set for Muscat’s exit.”

Muscat is reportedly planning to address a Labour party rally on Sunday. But his education minister undermined the show of support by warning against raising the political temperature.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Evarist Bartolo said this was not the time for “hot heads and spreading hatred and violence”. He added: “Protests are essential in a democracy, but they have to be civil and democratic because it is easy to spark the crowd, but then how to put out the fire?”

The opposition Nationalist party has cancelled an event that was being planned for Sunday following criticism that it could also inflame the situation. Caruana Galizia’s family have urged supporters to attend demonstrations organised by campaign groups and avoid party political events.

“DO NOT go to any rallies organised by party leaders,” her son Matthew Caruana Galizia wrote on Facebook. “This is not a time for tribal politics. Joseph Muscat wants us to go to war against each other. Our war is against corruption.”

Schembri was arrested after tendering his resignation on Monday night, following a long meeting at Muscat’s home.

For nearly four years, Schembri has been at the centre of a political scandal triggered by Caruana Galizia’s investigations. Using a leak of offshore information known as the Panama Papers, she reported that Schembri and fellow minister Konrad Mizzi became the beneficiaries of secretive offshore companies soon after entering office.

Subsequent investigations uncovered that those companies were due to receive payments from another shell company, belonging to Fenech. The businessman was granted a valuable concession by the government to run a power station, while Mizzi was energy minister.

Mizzi resigned Tuesday saying he was guilty of poor judgment but innocent of any criminal conduct. Schembri has previously denied all allegations of wrongdoing.


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