UPDATE JUSTICE FOR DAPHNE: The Net Closes on the Maltese Government
Nicola Driscoll-Davies on rapid moving events in the investigation into the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, has spent two nights in police custody after his home was searched and he was arrested on Tuesday in relation to the assassination of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Schembri, the Prime Minister’s closest aide and one of the most powerful men in Malta was named by Caruana Galizia in 2016 as having secret offshore Panama bank accounts, together with Dr Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Tourism.
Following the news of Schembri’s arrest, Mizzi resigned from the government. Chris Cardona, Minister for the Economy “suspended” himself after he and his aides were questioned by police on the weekend, but not under caution or arrest.
If the Panama Papers had been investigated and Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi had been asked to resign three years ago, would Daphne Caruana Galizia still be alive today?
The new wave of resignations and the arrest of the Prime Minister’s closest aide came after Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese businessman accused of corruption by Caruana Galizia, was caught by police trying to flee the country.
Fenech has requested a pardon in return for information on the planning of the murder of Caruana Galizia.
Fenech’s personal doctor, Dr Adrian Vella, has apparently admitted to having been a secret communication channel between Schembri and Fenech while the arrested businessman was receiving medical care in hospital while under arrest. Schembri was the last person Fenech called before he was arrested at sea.
Fenech was a major shareholder in the company Electrogas, a consortium which received a state contract in 2013 from the Labour government to build and operate a gas power station with Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR.
At the time of her murder, Caruana Galizia was working on the Panama Papers revelation of a connection between Fenech’s businesses and his government state energy deal. Reuters subsequently reported that Schembri and Mizzi were expecting large kickbacks from 17 Black, a Dubai-based company owned by Fenech.
Schembri, a successful businessman before he entered politics in 2012, became Prime Minister’s Muscat’s chief protector and most feared man in Malta.
Muscat in the Spotlight
Seven protests have taken place in Valletta, the capital of Malta, calling for the Prime Minister to resign. On Tuesday, Ministers had to be physically restrained in a heated parliamentary debate when the opposition benches cried out loud chants of “Mafia” and “Resign” at Labour Ministers.
Since the Panama Papers expose first reported by Caruana Galizia, the Maltese Prime Minister has stood by Mizzi and Schembri. Special Rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, assigned to the murder, told Byline Times. “By resigning, Schembri, Mizzi and Cardona have finally taken political responsibility for their situations. Their resignations raise further, even more, urgent questions for Prime Minister Muscat.”
“If the Panama Papers had been investigated and Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi had been asked to resign three years ago, would Daphne Caruana Galizia still be alive today?”
David Casa, European Parliament Quaestor and Maltese MEP, has written to President Von Der Leyen of the European Commission, saying that “a government that murders its own citizens has absolutely no place in the European Union.”
Casa warned the President of the European Commission that Malta is on the “precipice” and the fact that the Prime Minister, “should hold on to power under these circumstances is insane.”
Matthew Caruana, son of the late journalist, accused Muscat of “corrupting the justice system” by offering a pardon to Melvin Theuma who was arrested by international authorities on suspicion of money laundering and provided information leading to the arrest of Fenech.
Back in 2017, when Muscat’s Labour party was re-elected after many scandals, Caruana Galizia told her readers: “The fight against corruption and the decimation of the rule of law must continue.”
Even in death, Daphne Caruana Galizia remains the gatekeeper for the rule of law in Malta.