November 22, 2019 / 12:58 PM / 21 days ago

Malta police need more time to quiz man over journalist murder - PM

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Police decided to release on bail a person of interest in the investigation into the murder of a Maltese journalist because they need more time to question him, the prime minister said on Friday.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat makes a statement to media on the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

“If a person is taken to court, he or she cannot be further questioned by the police, and in this case, the police want to question him further,” Joseph Muscat told journalists.

Prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested when his yacht was intercepted shortly after it sailed out of a Maltese harbour before dawn on Wednesday. Under Maltese law, those arrested have to be charged or released within 48 hours.

Fenech was released under police surveillance late on Thursday and called back in for interrogation on Friday. Some local media reported he had been re-arrested, but there was no confirmation of this from police.

Neither Fenech nor his lawyer have made any comment since his detention on Wednesday.

His arrest came a day after came Muscat offered to pardon a suspected middleman in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia if he provided legally binding evidence of who was behind the killing.

Caruana Galizia, one of Malta’s best-known investigative journalists, was blown up as she left her home on Oct. 16, 2017.

Three men are awaiting trial for setting off the bomb. Authorities still need to identify who commissioned the murder, which shocked Europe and raised questions about rule of law on the Mediterranean island.

INVESTIGATION

Muscat said statements so far made by the middleman, named as Melvin Theuma, were still being studied by police and needed to be corroborated. He also rebutted criticism from some opposition politicians over the decision to release Fenech.

“This is not a case of the investigators going from hero to zero. The police know what they are doing, they have to comply with the law while being mindful not to undermine their investigation,” he said.

“Their interest and mine is to know all the facts.”

Fenech headed a company that is one of the major shareholders in a power station built after having been granted a government contract.

A Reuters investigation has also shown that he is the owner of a company called 17 Black which was named in emails as being the vehicle for depositing money into the accounts of secret Panama companies owned by Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and government chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Mizzi had been energy minister when the power station contract was awarded. It is not known whether any funds actually changed hands. Mizzi and Schembri have always denied wrongdoing and Muscat has repeatedly resisted calls for their dismissal.

Caruana Galizia had revealed the existence of 17 Black and the Panama companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri, although when she died it was still not known that Fenech was behind 17 Black.

The family of Caruana Galizia on Friday called on Muscat to stay out of the investigation and stop providing media updates given the alleged ties between Fenech and his own allies.

“The prime minister has no place anywhere near the investigation and we trust that he will now distance himself from it,” the family said, adding they would take legal action if needed to make sure the investigation “is independent and impartial, and that it runs its full course”.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Heinrich, Andrew Cawthorne

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