ROME–If Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in October 2017, knew one thing in the days before she died, it was that she was onto something big.
The muckraking journalist who helped uncover a string of illicit Maltese businesses tied to the Panama Papers investigations, had been homing in on a number of figures close to Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, including his chief of staff Keith Schembri and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, who both resigned last week. Malta’s economy minister Chris Cardona also stepped down, and was asked by police to provide “further clarifications” to yet unknown questions. He was reinstated as economy minister on Sunday.
But one name Caruana Galizia rarely mentioned was Yorgen Fenech, a 38-year-old businessman who was arraigned Saturday evening as an accomplice in her murder. In fact, in her hugely popular Running Commentary blog, which has been left untouched since her murder, she only wrote about Fenech once, in 2013, in connection to a new power plant on the Mediterranean island.
What she may or may not have known when she was killed was that Fenech was the secret owner of the Dubai-based company 17 Black, which was the major financier for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate that she reported had links to Muscat’s associates Schembri and Mizzi.
The Times of Malta and Reuters, both part of a journalistic consortium called the Daphne Project established to follow up on the many threads Caruana Galizia was trying to unravel, eventually confirmed Fenech as the owner of 17 Black in 2018.
Fenech, who was stopped aboard his yacht by Maltese armed guards as he was heading for Italy on Nov. 20, had asked for immunity from prosecution after taxi driver Melvin Theuma fingered him. Theuma was implicated as the middleman who contracted the three men currently in jail for detonating Caruana Galizia’s car after he was arrested in an unrelated money laundering case on Nov. 14. He was offered immunity for his testimony after evidence gathered during that case tied him to both Fenech and the three men in custody.
Muscat had recommended the immunity for Theuma, who has been talking ever since, mostly offering up details about how the three men currently in custody were paid $165,000 for the killing. The accused—brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, who is not related to the prime minister—are awaiting trial. Ten people were arrested originally in connection with the bombing, but only three were charged.
Fenech reportedly had promised to provide details about Schembri’s involvement in exchange for his own immunity from prosecution. But Prime Minister Muscat denied the immunity, according to court documents published in various Maltese media outlets.
Muscat’s chief of staff and longtime friend Schembri, who Caruana Galizia wrote about extensively, including in her very last blog post published just two hours before she was killed, was interrogated for two days last week, but ultimately let go.
The formal arraignment of Fenech Saturday night does show progress in the case, but it does not satisfy Caruana Galizia’s family, who believe Muscat should step down because of his close ties to those now under investigation. His resignation would also block him from interfering in the ongoing murder investigation, which the family believes he has done until now.
For one thing, Prime Minister Muscat included Schembri in security breifings on the journalist’s murder despite Schembri’s own close ties to Fenech, who Muscat is reported to have known was under investigation for more than a year. Last week, a doctor was questioned for passing notes between Fenech and Schembri that are alleged to have aided in keeping their stories straight.
On Sunday, members of Malta’s ruling Labor Party, to which Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi and Cardona belong, met at the prime minister’s country retreat amid speculation they were laying out an exit plan for Muscat. For several days his resignation has been reported as imminent. The Maltese press have suggested the resignation will come Jan. 18, which is far too late for Caruana Galizia’s family, who insist he step down immediately. But after the four-hour meeting the Labor party leaders said they gave Muscat “unanimous support to all decisions which the Prime Minister will be taking.” A short time later, Muscat made a televised appearance in which he promised to resign as leader of the party on Jan. 12, and step down as prime minister “in the days after.”
The journalist’s sister Corrine Vella told reporters that while the arrest is welcomed, it’s simply not enough. “We're finally starting to see some progress in the investigation into Daphne’s murder,” she said. “It’s welcome, it’s important, but it’s very far long overdue. To us, Daphne’s death has always been linked to her work, and we've maintained all along that justice for Daphne means justice for her murder.” Vella and other family members maintain that that they would also like to see her sister’s many investigations into corruption by Malta’s top officials lead to arrests.
At Fenech’s Saturday night arraignment, where he was charged with complicity in murder, membership of a criminal organization, and an allegation related to an illegal explosion, the murdered journalist’s widower Peter sat with her sons Matthew, Andrew, and Paul sat in the courtroom a few feet away from the man who allegedly paid to have their wife and mother killed.
Her sons Matthew and Paul are both following in their mother’s journalistic footsteps. After the arraignment, Paul tweeted, “What we now expect is for the Prime Minister to leave office and Parliament, and to be properly investigated along with Keith Schembri for their possible involvement in Daphne’s assassination.”