Mandy Mallia places a picture of her sister Daphne Caruana Galizia, next to the car of Malta's Minister of Justice Owen Bonnici during a demonstration to call for the resignation of Joseph Muscat, following the arrest of one of the country's most prominent businessmen, as part of the investigation into the murder of the journalist, in Valletta, Malta November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Mandy Mallia places a picture of her sister Daphne Caruana Galizia next to the car of Malta's justice minister during a demonstration in Valletta on Wednesday © Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

The family of the murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have warned the prime minister to stay out of the probe into her killing after this week’s arrest and release of a leading businessman.

Caruana Galizia’s relatives expressed dismay after Joseph Muscat, the Mediterranean island state’s premier, announced that police had released Yorgen Fenech after he was detained by armed forces on his luxury yacht. 

The family said in a statement that they were “dismayed” to see Mr Muscat “putting himself at the centre” of a probe that focused in part on “his own office and his closest officials”.

“The prime minister has no place anywhere near the investigation and we trust that he will now distance himself from it,” the statement read.

A spokesperson for the government did not comment on the criticism.

The 2017 killing of Caruana Galizia by a car bomb caused shock across the EU and drew intense scrutiny to the alleged corruption and conflicts of interest she documented in the bloc’s smallest state. A trial of three men accused of her murder has still not begun, while no one has been arrested for ordering the killing. 

Mr Muscat said on Friday that Mr Fenech had been released without charge on police bail as required by law, after he was detained this week while sailing away from the Maltese coast before dawn.

It emerged shortly before the arrest that Maltese authorities had offered a presidential pardon to a suspected middleman in the Caruana Galizia murder, who was detained last week on another matter, if he provided substantial evidence of who directed the killing.

Mr Fenech — who has just resigned from positions in his family property and finance company and a business awarded a large power station concession by the government in 2013 — has not commented. He has not been accused of any offence and has previously denied any wrongdoing. 

“The case is a major one, I think one of the biggest the country has ever seen,” Mr Muscat said of the Caruana Galizia probe, as he briefed reporters on Mr Fenech’s status. “The investigators — who I have full faith in — need to ask further questions and they need more time.” 

A Reuters investigation last year alleged Mr Fenech owned a Dubai company named 17 Black Limited that Ms Caruana Galizia had highlighted over its possible links to Maltese politicians. Mr Fenech declined to say whether he owned 17 Black, Reuters said.

Panama-registered companies owned by Keith Schembri, Mr Muscat’s chief of staff, and Konrad Mizzi, then energy minister, stood to receive payments of up to $2m from 17 Black for unspecified services, Reuters claimed, citing a December 2015 email uncovered by Maltese financial regulators.

There is no evidence any payments were made. Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi, who is now the tourism minister, have denied any wrongdoing and have not been accused of any offences.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights watchdog, alleged in June that the two top officials seemed to “enjoy impunity, under the personal protection of Prime Minister Muscat”.

The assembly further accused Maltese authorities of allowing “numerous major scandals to arise and go unchecked”.

Twitter @mikepeeljourno

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