2019 Malta political crisis

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Protest of Maltese civil society rises at the Auberge de Castille, the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The 2019 Malta political crisis is an ongoing political and institutional crisis within the Republic of Malta following the uncovering of alleged links between government officials and the 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.[1][2][3] The Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Minister for Tourism Konrad Mizzi resigned[4] following the arrest of businessman Yorgen Fenech in connection with the murder.

On 1 December 2019 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced his intention to resign[5] on 12 January 2020[6] after increased pressure from protestors. An EU mission has called for his immediate resignation.[7] Constitutional experts, legal bodies and other representatives have stated Muscat's decision to remain in office until January and to have a six week parliamentary recess over Christmas has led to an unprecedented constitutional crisis.[8][9]

Background[edit]

Malta has enjoyed a financial boom since accession to the EU in 2004, fueled by online gambling, crypto-currency exchanges, the sale of citizenship (EU-citizen),[citation needed] and a financial centre with a reputation for lax controls on money laundering[citation needed] and tax evasion.[citation needed] According to The Guardian, the country has been used as a gateway into Europe for money from Libya, Azerbaijan, Russia and even Venezuela.[citation needed]

In 2018, the European Central Bank revoked the licence of a bank called Pilatus, first investigated by the journalist Caruana Galizia, after its Iranian owner was arrested on sanctions-busting charges by US prosecutors.[10] Among other things, Caruana Galizia wrote about gifts and money from the presidential family in Azerbaijan to Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat,[citation needed] his wife and connections between opposition leader Adrian Delia and a prostitution ring in London.[11]

Persons involved in the crisis[edit]

Daphne Caruana Galizia[edit]

Daphne Caruana Galizia was described as "one-woman-Wikileaks"[12] and the most important, visible and fearless journalists of the country. She ran a popular blog called Running Commentary, which investigated allegations of corruption and other criminal wrongdoing which Caruana Galizia alleged, ran into the highest levels of Maltese government. In a murder plot, she got killed in a car bomb attack to her Peugeot 108 on 16 October 2017.[13]

Yorgen Fenech[edit]

Yorgen Fenech is a well-known figure in Malta.[citation needed] He has served as head of the Tumas business group and a director of energy company Electrogas. Fenech resigned from both positions in 2019.[13]

He was identified in 2018 as being the owner of a Dubai-registered company, called 17 Black.[citation needed] The company was listed in the Panama Papers. Caruana Galizia had written about 17 Black eight months before her death, alleging the company had links to the Joseph Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri and to former energy minister Konrad Mizzi.[14] The political blogger Manuel Delia assumption is: Fenech wanted to cover up a bribe scandal, which Caruana had uncovered. Yorgen Fenech's "17 Black" company was to spend millions on offshore accounts of several Labor Government ministers.[citation needed] Evidence had been found only after her murder.[15]

Joseph Muscat[edit]

Joseph Muscat, 2018

Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta at the break out of the crisis, promised a fair investigation after the murder plot. In November 2019, clues pointed directly to the immediate circle of the head of government in the case. There was evidence that Muscat had known Fenech's role in the Caruana Galizia case since 2017, because his secret service bugged Fenech's telephone and was reading the logs.[16]

Keith Schembri[edit]

Keith Schembri was chief of staff of the Office of the Prime Minister. He is said to be one of the most powerful persons in Maltese politics.[17] Schembri was the subject of Caruana Galizia's last blog post, minutes before she got killed. Caruana Galizia alleged he had benefited from secretive shell companies.[13]

Schembri was a successful businessman before he switched to politics.[17] His Kasco Holding bought paper and sold it to the printers in Malta with a good margin and expanded the business to the trade of printing machines.[citation needed] His many clients included the oldest newspaper of the country, the Times of Malta.[citation needed] Since the Times of Malta was unable to pay its bills during the financial crisis, according to the newspaper, Schembri often put pressure on them.[citation needed] Apparently he demanded good press for himself and his growing business empire.[citation needed] Kasco also invested in beverage brands, restaurants and luxury furniture.[citation needed] In 2008, Joseph Muscat brought his friend Schembri to the Labor Party.[citation needed] Schembri updated the stale communication style of Parti Labourista.[17] In 2013, the party won the parliamentary elections and Muscat became premier. Schembri was appointed as the "Chief of staff", a newly created position in the organization chart of the ruling government.[18]

When Schembri was arrested, the police investigation drew close to members of Joseph Muscat's government. Police released Schembri some days later, announcing he was no longer viewed as a person of interest.[citation needed] The family of Caruana Galizia sees Schembri as one of the most suspected persons in the murder plot.[citation needed]

Konrad Mizzi[edit]

Konrad Mizzi, 2012

Konrad Mizzi was tourism minister but stepped down, saying it was his duty to allow Mr Muscat's government to continue. Mizzi was earlier removed from his post as health and energy minister in 2016 after it emerged that he had set up a company in Panama, listed in the Panama Papers. He said, he had merely made arrangements for managing family assets and had done nothing wrong.[citation needed] In his health role he oversaw the part-privatisation of Malta's health service.[13]

Melvin Theuma[edit]

Melvin Theuma is a taxi-driver from Valletta.[19] He is linked to criminal enterprises and was arrested in November 2019 in connection with a separate anti-money laundering investigation.[20] Theuma offered police information about the 2017 murder in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He is described as a middle-man between the commissioners and the murders.[13]

Lawrence Cutajar[edit]

Lawrence Cutajar was responsibel for the investigation in the assernation case of Caruana; he was commissioner of the Malta Police Force. In January 2020 Cutajar resigned as comissioner of police. Malta's former head of government, Joseph Muscat always refused to deputize Cutajar. His successor, Abela Malta's former head of government, Joseph Muscat, recently resigned because of alleged involvement of people around him. He had always refused to deputize Cutajar. His successor, Robert Abela, promised to review the police chief's appointment process.[21][22]

Caruana Galizia family[edit]

Matthew Caruana Galizia, Journalist and son of Daphne Capuana Galizia at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in July 2019 in London.

The relatives of Caruana Galizia initiated legal action against Muscat on 2 December 2019. The family demanded the immediate resignation of the prime minister, stipulating that his remaining in power was not to be tolerated by all who cared about justice: "His role in investigating the murder of our wife and mother is unlawful."[23]

Timeline[edit]

On 16 October 2017, the investigative journalist Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb attack close to her home,[24][25] attracting widespread local and international reactions.[26][27] In December 2017, three men were arrested in connection with the car bomb attack.[28]

Important information from a witness in 2019[edit]

On November 13, 2019 the spaniel sniffer dog Peter was screening passengers when he alerted his handlers of Malta custom to the smell of cash.[clarification needed] Customs reportedly found €210,000 in the belongings of Melvin Theuma, preparing to board a flight to Istanbul.[clarification needed] The economic crimes unit were called and a day later, the incident led to the arrest of Theuma. Under questioning by police, Theuma made the claim that he had acted as intermediary in the contract killing of journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. When Theuma called for his lawyers, he asked for Jason Azzopardi and his colleague Simon Busuttil. Both are the Caruana Galizia family lawyers and both are members of parliament for the opposition Nationalist Party. The Guardian described both as "the forefront of the battle to hold Muscat’s government to account."[10]

On 19 November 2019 Muscat announced a deal with a star-witness (which later turns out to be Melvin Theuma). This person should provide comprehensive information about the murder case and other crimes, but he receives impunity.[citation needed]

On 20 November Fenech attempted to leave Malta on his private yacht, with the Armed Forces of Malta intercepting his boat and arresting him as a "person of interest" in the Caruana Galizia murder enquiry.[29] Maltese media alleged that Fenech was familiar with Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver with links to criminal enterprises who had been described in local media as a potential "middleman" in the murder.[citation needed]

On 23 November 2019 Fenech offered himself as a witness. He promised information about the murder case and other offenses, in exchange for impunity.[citation needed]

On 25 November 2019 the star witness Melvin Theuma was granted immunity from prosecution by President George Vella at the request of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.[citation needed]

Fenech's defense tried to call the whole process into question. This was successful - Fenech was released on 29 November 2019. The businessman was prejudiced in public, so his defence said, that he could not hope for a proper investigation and a fair trial. He argued that the second main suspect, Keith Schembri, had not been charged. Also he argued, that Schembri has built the star witness Melvin Theuma against Fenech and paid for it. In addition, the police inspector in charge of the case had a close connection to Schembri and was therefore biased.[citation needed]

Keith Schembri and other governmental staff involved[edit]

On 30 November 2019 an indictment was filed against Fenech in Valletta, and he was accused of complicity in the murder of Caruana Galizia, amongst other charges. Fenech pleaded not guilty.[30] He has been back in jail since November 30, 2019.[citation needed]

Six days after Fenech's arrest, Schembri resigned his government post on 26 November 2019, and was subsequently arrested by the police for questioning.[31][32] Schembri was later released.[33]

Adrian Vella, who was a personal physician to Fenech, was also arrested. Vella was named as a director of a number of companies registered or managed in Panama.[34] He is said to have served as a secret messenger between Schembri and Fenech.[35]

Yorgen Fenech, in his court statement, accused Schembri of being the mastermind behind the Caruana Galizia murder.[36] Schembri was also accused of influencing Fenech in order to frame Chris Cardona as responsible for the murder.[37]

Despite calling for a presidential pardon, Yorgen Fenech was not granted one. This was decided by the Cabinet in a long session in the night of 29 November 2019.[38]

Muscat resignation[edit]

Muscat announced his resignation on 1 December 2019 in a televised speech, saying he would step down after Labour Party internal elections on 12 January 2020. He informed the President of Malta, George Vella, that he would be resigning his duties once his successor had been elected. His decision was influenced by the investigation into the Caruana Galizia murder.[39]

About 4000 Maltese blocked Muscat and other MPs from leaving the Parliament Building in Valletta on 3 December 2019. The Nationalist Party announced a boycott of any parliament session until Muscat stepped down. Several hundred people from the Labour Party met for a demonstration against the anti-government protests.[40]

On the same day, Reporters sans Frontieres, together with the relatives of Caruana Galizia, filed a lawsuit against three of the alleged key figures in the murder case in France. The lawsuit was filed with the Finance Prosecutor's Office and the Paris Public Prosecutor's Office accusing Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi of murder and bribery.[41]

Muscat resigned as planned on 13 January 2020 and was replaced by Robert Abela as the new prime minister of Malta.[42]

Protests[edit]

Reactions[edit]

An EU Parliament delegation announced to come to Malta in early December 2019 to monitor the rule of law and to hold talks with government officials in Malta.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "'Keith Schembri told me phone was being tapped, tried to send notes' - Fenech". Times of Malta. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  2. ^ Rankin, Jennifer (5 December 2019). "Suspect in Daphne Caruana Galizia murder says he got tipoffs from official". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  3. ^ Welle (www.dw.com), Deutsche. "How a journalist's murder haunts Malta's ruling elite | DW | 05.12.2019". DW.COM. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  4. ^ Garside, Juliette (26 November 2019). "Maltese PM's aide and minister quit amid turmoil over journalist's murder". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  5. ^ Higgins, Andrew (1 December 2019). "Malta Leader Says He Will Resign, as Murder Inquiry Widens". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  6. ^ "Muscat to step down as Prime Minister after January 12". Times of Malta. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  7. ^ Rankin, Jennifer (3 December 2019). "EU mission tells Malta PM to quit immediately over Caruana Galizia case". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  8. ^ Aquilina, Kevin (7 December 2019). "This is a constitutional crisis par excellence". Times of Malta. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  9. ^ Calleja, Stephen (2 December 2019). "Protesters block Malta's leader from leaving Parliament". AP. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  10. ^ a b "https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/29/how-customs-haul-triggered-series-of-arrests-over-maltese-journalists". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2019. External link in |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Detta har hänt: Mordet på maltesiska journalisten Daphne Caruana Galizia". Svenska television. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Daphne Caruana Galizia". abc.net.au. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Daphne Caruana Galizia: The key figures in Malta's crisis over her murder". BBC.com. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  14. ^ "The key figures in Malta's crisis". 1 December 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2020 – via www.bbc.com.
  15. ^ "Mord an Journalistin Galizia auf Malta: Familie wütend über Vorgehen des Premierministers". Frankfurter Rundschau. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Mafiafilm auf Malta" [Mafia movie on Malta]. Deutsche Welle (in German). Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  17. ^ a b c "[ANALYSIS] Rise and fall of Keith Schembri, the hand that rocked the throne". MaltaToday.com.mt. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Keith Schembri". Süddeutsche Zeitung. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  19. ^ "Melvin Theuma, from wheeler-dealer to alleged murder middleman". Times of Malta. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  20. ^ "Melvin Theuma: The criminal connection". newsbook malta. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Unsauber gearbeitet: Polizeichef von Malta tritt zurück". www.t-online.de (in German). Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  22. ^ "Malta - Polizeichef gibt seinen Posten auf - Hintergrund ist Fall Caruana Galizia". Deutschlandfunk (in German). Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  23. ^ Der Spiegel (2 December 2019). "Familie fordert sofortigen Rücktritt von Maltas Premier". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  24. ^ "Daphne Caruana Galizia killed as vehicle blows up in Bidnija". The Malta Independent. 16 October 2017. Archived from the original on 16 October 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  25. ^ "Murder in Paradise: A Car Bomb Kills A Crusading Journalist". The Economist. 21 October 2017. p. 52.
  26. ^ "Death of 'journalist who exposed major corruption' echoes in all corners of the globe". The Malta Independent. 18 October 2017. Archived from the original on 22 October 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  27. ^ "Top UK newspapers slam 'mafia state' Malta over Caruana Galizia murder". The Times of Malta. 18 October 2017. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  28. ^ Jon Stone (6 December 2017). "Daphne Caruana Galizia murder: Three charged over killing of Maltese journalist who exposed Panama Papers corruption". The Independent. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  29. ^ "Daphne murder: 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech arrested on yacht". Times of Malta.
  30. ^ "Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech pleads not guilty to Caruana Galizia assassination". MaltaToday.com.mt.
  31. ^ "Malta Caruana murder: Resignations spark government crisis". BBC. 26 November 2019.
  32. ^ "Keith Schembri under arrest, along with Yorgen Fenech's doctor". The Times of Malta. 27 November 2019. 'I don't think we know exactly whether he is being questioned or what he is being questioned about, so let's take it one step at a time', [the PM] said"
  33. ^ "Keith Schembri released, police see no need for him to remain under arrest - The Malta Independent". independent.com.mt.
  34. ^ "ADRIAN VELLA | ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database". offshoreleaks.icij.org.
  35. ^ "BREAKING: Lawyer Of Keith Schembri's Messenger/Doctor Adrian Vella Renounces Him As Client". Lovin Malta. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  36. ^ Garside, Juliette (28 November 2019). "Maltese PM's aide accused of being mastermind of Caruana Galizia killing" – via www.theguardian.com.
  37. ^ Cilia, Johnathan (30 November 2019). "Chris Cardona Requests Protection After Plot To 'Frame' Him In Assassination Case Is Claimed". Lovin Malta.
  38. ^ "Yorgen Fenech presidential pardon denied after six-hour Cabinet meeting". 29 November 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  39. ^ Grech, Herman. "Joseph Muscat expected to step down imminently". Times of Malta (29/11/19). Retrieved 29 November 2019.
  40. ^ dpa, ap, ces (3 December 2019). "Tausende Demonstranten blockieren Maltas Parlament". Die Zeit.
  41. ^ sans Frontieres, Reporter (5 December 2019). "Klage gegen drei Hauptverdächtige". Reporter sans Frontieres.
  42. ^ Balmer, Crispian; Elgood, Gils (13 January 2020). "Robert Abela sworn in as Malta's new prime minister". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 14 January 2020.