PRESS FREEDOM

Businessman arrested in Malta journalist murder probe

A wealthy Maltese businessman was arrested aboard his luxury cruiser yacht in connection with the car bomb murder of reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia.

A wealthy Maltese businessman was arrested in connection with the car bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as he sailed away before dawn on Wednesday from the Mediterranean island aboard his luxury cruiser yacht.

Malta’s armed forces intercepted and detained Yorgen Fenech less than 24 hours after the country’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had offered an alleged unnamed middleman conditional immunity from prosecution for his role in the October 2017 murder if he testified against his paymaster.

Following Fenech’s arrest, Muscat confirmed to local media that the prominent businessman was “a person of interest” in the ongoing inquiry.

“The fact that the country’s institutions were given the resources to carry out this operation – a major operation, to ensure no-one fled the country or tried to flee the country – shows the government’s resolve and mine,” he said.

The Times of Malta subsequently reported that Fenech had transferred his business interests to his brother last week.

The arrest prompted renewed calls for Muscat’s resignation over his government’s lackluster response to the murder and accusations of a continuing tolerance of corruption in his inner circle.

Based on Caruana Galizia’s reporting building upon the 2016 Panama Papers leak and further investigations by news outlets in the wake of her murder, Fenech was identified as the owner of 17 Black, a mysterious Dubai-registered company that had reportedly received millions of dollars from an Azerbaijani national and was due to make large deposits to Panama shell companies owned by two named senior government figures.

In June, The Council of Europe criticized Muscat’s inaction over the “highly irregular procedure” whereby these named senior government figures had granted the concession for a power station to a consortium that included the Azerbaijani State energy company, which derived super-normal profits as a result. They continue to deny any wrongdoing.

Aside from the alleged middleman, three men are facing charges of planting the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia near her home. Two brothers, Alfred and George Degiorgio, and their friend Vincent Muscat (no relation to the prime minister) were arrested in December 2017 and have pleaded not guilty in pre-trial testimony.

In a statement welcoming Fenech’s arrest, Caruana Galizia’s family described it as “an overdue and important development in the investigation” but emphasized that investigations into the corruption her reporting uncovered should continue.

Under Maltese law, police must charge Fenech within 48 hours or release him.

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