Malta PM rejects immunity bid by top suspect in murder probe

Joseph Muscat's administration rebuffs businessman's plea for immunity in case over killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

    Muscat said he wanted the probe into Caruana Galizia's death 'closed under my watch' [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
    Muscat said he wanted the probe into Caruana Galizia's death 'closed under my watch' [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

    Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said his government rejected a request by a prominent businessman for immunity from prosecution in connection with the 2017 killing of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia.

    Muscat announced the decision over Yorgen Fenech on Friday following an emergency cabinet meeting late on Thursday evening that dragged on for more than six hours through the night.

    More:

    Fenech was arrested on board a yacht leaving Malta just over a week ago and during questioning implicated former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri in the alleged murder plot.

    On Thursday night, Fenech appeared in court under heavy police escort to file a constitutional application asking President George Vella - and not the government - to rule on his pardon request, citing a conflict of interest.

    In the letter to the president, Fenech's lawyers said their client was prepared to give information relating to Schembri and former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, who resigned on Tuesday, and former Economy Minister Chris Cardona, who has "suspended himself" from his duties.

    The court is due to consider the case on Friday afternoon.

    'One-woman WikiLeaks'

    Muscat said the government's decision to reject Fenech's request for immunity came after advice from the Attorney General and the police that there were no grounds for the pardon to be granted.

    "I leave it up to the president to decide on the constitutional merits of this letter," he said.

    Muscat also said his government was "committed to investigate all allegations of illegalities", adding he wanted the probe into Caruana Galizia's death "closed under my watch".

    As Muscat and his ministers met behind closed doors, police said Schembri - who was arrested on Tuesday - had been released.

    His release from arrest drew an angry reaction from a crowd awaiting developments outside the office of the prime minister, accusing the government of trying to cover up Caruana Galizia's killing by a car bomb near her home.

    The death of Caruana Galizia - a popular journalist and blogger described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks" who exposed corruption in Malta - shocked the country and has since sparked protests for justice.

    Muscat has been heavily criticised over the government's handling of the case, and on Tuesday vowed to resign if links were found between himself and the murder.

    SOURCE: News agencies