Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi resign, as police continue inquiry into 2017 death of Daphne Caruana Galizia
The Maltese prime ministers chief of staff and the countrys tourism minister have resigned in an escalation of the political turmoil surrounding the investigation into the murder of the prominent anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.
Yesterday evening, my chief of staff informed me that from today he would be relinquishing his post, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said at a brief press conference on the steps of his office on Tuesday morning.
Keith Schembri is understood to have been taken to police headquarters for questioning in relation to the case, and police were seen entering one of his properties on Tuesday. Schembri made no immediate comment.
Later on Tuesday, the tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi, announced his resignation after a cabinet meeting. Mizzi said he resigned in light of political, extraordinary and general circumstances in the country.
I have done nothing wrong from a criminal point of view, he added.
Schembri and Mizzi had both been accused of corruption by Caruana Galizia. They have always denied any wrongdoing.
Schembris resignation followed reports on Monday night that a businessman arrested last week in connection with the murder was preparing to make allegations against Schembri.
Opposition politicians have been calling for both men to go since Caruana Galizia reported that they had taken control of secretive Panama shell companies soon after entering office.
Asked whether he would consider his own position, Muscat said: I have always said I dont intend seeking re-election. I dont intend to serve more than two terms. My role right now is to make sure that we navigate through this turbulent time in the best possible manner. Once this chapter is closed with the arraignment of person or persons on this case I will make my consideration.
Muscat added: I would definitely resign if there is any sort of association between myself and the murder.
Chris Cardona, the minister for the economy, investment and small businesses, also said that he was suspending himself with immediate effect pending the investigations and proceedings going on right now. Cardona said he had absolutely no connection with the Caruana Galizia case, but after police had asked for further clarifications, he felt duty bound to take the step in the national interest.
Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right EPP grouping in the European parliament, described recent events as very worrisome.
There are lot of additional questions on the table for the prime minster of Malta, he said, adding that Muscat had to take political responsibility with regard to the principle of an independent investigation and the rule of law.
Schembri had been facing renewed pressure after the arrest of the businessman Yorgen Fenech, with whom he had alleged business links.
Caruana Galizia, one of Maltas best-known investigative journalists, was killed in a bomb explosion as she left her home on 16 October 2017. The murder shocked Europe and raised questions about the rule of law on the small Mediterranean island. Three men are awaiting trial for setting off the bomb, as police continue their investigation into who ordered the killing.
Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver and alleged loan shark who claims to have been a middleman in the alleged murder plot, was told last week he would be granted a presidential pardon in return for information he had given about the case.
Shortly before her death, Caruana Galizia received a massive leak of data from an energy company co-owned by Fenech. His company, Electrogas, won a concession to run a major power station from Muscats administration.
Investigations have revealed Fenech as the owner of a secretive offshore company, 17 Black, which Caruana Galizia was looking into at the time of her death. It was later revealed 17 Black was due to make payments to the Panama companies belonging to Mizzi and Schembri.
On Tuesday, Mizzi said: I want to make it clear once more that I have had no association, directly or indirectly with 17 Black or Yorgen Fenech.
Schembri and Mizzi have both previously said they had no knowledge of any connection between 17 Black and Fenech, or of any plan to receive payments connected to Fenech.
Challenged about whether he had stood by his chief of staff for too long, Muscat replied: That is a valid opinion.