Malta Caruana murder: Resignations spark government crisis

(BBC) – Two years after the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a volley of resignations has rocked Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government.

His chief aide, Keith Schembri, quit amid reports he was being questioned by police, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi also resigned.

The Economy Minister, Chris Cardona, took the decision to suspend himself.

Opposition MPs heckled the prime minister with shouts of “mafia” when he walked into parliament.

The three men who stepped aside from Mr Muscat’s government on Tuesday all deny wrongdoing.

Under mounting pressure, the prime minister said he would not speculate on whether Mr Schembri was being questioned or what any questioning could be about.

Malta’s business community has said the unfolding inquiry reveals the extent of damage caused to the country.

In a statement, the chamber of commerce said it had become clear “the extent to which criminal activity had infiltrated the circles of power, and operated unperturbed for years”.

Why have events come to a head?

Investigations into Caruana Galizia’s murder in a car bombing intensified when a suspected middleman was pardoned.

The prime minister told parliament the suspect, Melvin Theuma, was being given immunity in return for information about the killing. Maltese reports suggested he had audio recordings linked to the case.

Last week, prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested in a dramatic raid on his yacht. He too is reported to have requested a pardon in exchange for information. He received hospital treatment after his arrest and has been given police bail.

Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist, was killed on 16 October 2017 after blogging about corruption.

She alleged that a company called 17 Black, owned by Mr Fenech, had links to high-level politicians and in her last blog, she wrote about the prime minister’s aide, Mr Schembri.

Where does the Panama Papers scandal come in?

Mr Schembri was named in the massive 2016 data leak known as the Panama Papers and Caruana Galizia alleged that he and Konrad Mizzi had benefited from secretive “shell companies”.

Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff in the office of Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (file pic)

Commentators point out that both members of the government caught up in the Panama Papers leaks have now left office.

Mr Mizzi did initially leave the government after the leak but he was later given the tourism brief.

Although Mr Cardona has not been linked to the leak, he was recently approached by police for “further clarifications” and said he was stepping aside as economy minister in the national interest.