EU deputy: Not a bad idea to question Malta PM in slaying

People protest outside the office of the Prime Minister at Castille, in Valletta, Malta, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, as a delegation od European Union lawmakers is visiting the country after an investigation into the murder of leading investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia implicated Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)

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VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — The head of an EU lawmaker mission to Malta on Wednesday suggested that police question the Maltese premier about the car bombing that killed a journalist investigating possible corruption in his government.

“I think that it is a matter for the police to decide, but … I don’t think it would be a bad idea for them to question” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, said the European Parliament mission head, Sophia in ‘t Veld. In ’t Veld added that Muscat had “not been very generous with information.”

Her remark, in response to a question by reporters, came at the end of a two-day fact-finding mission to the Mediterranean island and EU member.

Amid nearly daily protests over the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Muscat said earlier this week that he would step down as prime minister and as Labor Party leader in January.

Earlier Wednesday, a Maltese taxi driver who testified at a hearing for three men who have been accused of setting off the bomb told a Malta court that a local casino and hotel owner was the sole mastermind of the 2017 car bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.

Testifying for the prosecution in exchange for immunity, Melvin Theuma told the court that the hotelier, Yorgen Fenech, had told him, after the 2017 reelection of Muscat, that he should contact the trio chosen for the plot “because I want to kill Daphne.”

The plot was originally hatched earlier but was put on hold when national elections were called a year ahead of schedule, Theuma said.

The election was called after the leak of the so-called Panama papers indicated that Muscat’s chief of staff and a minister in his Cabinet had offshore companies. Muscat sought a renewed mandate of confidence from voters after the leak cast shadows over his administration.

Caruana Galizia was trying to unearth links between financial dealings indicated by the leaked documents and prominent political and business figures in the tiny island nation.

In separate proceedings last week, a court arraigned Fenech on charges he organized and financed the killing. Fenech has pleaded innocent. He was arrested while sailing away from Malta on his yacht last month.

Fenech reportedly had implicated Muscat’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Schembri denied the allegations. He resigned on Nov. 26, and was arrested by police the same day, only to be released without charge two days later. Schembri said he had nothing to do with the killing, as did a Cabinet minister who also resigned.

“What does that say about the prime minister?’’ in’t Veld asked. “Either he has been incredibly naive while all this was going on under his nose, or he was part of the problem.’’

European Parliament lawmakers ended the fact-finding mission concluding that while authorities had made progress in their investigation, government officials had failed to reduce corruption and money laundering on the island, which attracts investors with its loose banking regulations and financial laws.

“There is still a culture of impunity for corruption and money laundering,’’ lawmaker Sven Giegold said in a statement. Giegold described Malta’s sale of passports to non-EU citizens with ready cash as “a gateway to corruption.”


D’Emilio reported from Rome.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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