Maltese Businessman Accuses Top Government Officials in Murder of Journalist

VALLETTA, Malta — A prominent Maltese businessman has offered to testify against top government officials over the 2017 murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and said the prime minister had a conflict of interest in the case.

The businessman, Yorgen Fenech, was arrested last week in connection with the killing. Lawyers for Mr. Fenech on Thursday deposited in court a letter to President George Vella formally asking for a pardon.

In return, Mr. Fenech promised to supply information related to the former government chief of staff Keith Schembri, former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Economic Affairs Minister Chris Cardona and other people “close to the prime minister.”

The lawyers for Mr. Fenech said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat should not be involved in deciding the plea for a pardon, because he was among “persons who may have an interest for such a pardon not to be granted.” They also called for removal of chief investigator Keith Arnaud, claiming he was close to Mr. Schembri.

The lawyers said the president alone should decide on the pardon, without any involvement from Mr. Muscat’s cabinet. The court temporarily upheld this request until it considers the case in depth on Friday.

Ms. Caruana Galizia, who wrote extensively about politics, fraud and government malfeasance, was killed by a car bomb near her home, drawing attention to corruption in the European Union’s smallest country.

Three men were charged with planting the bomb and are awaiting trial, but authorities have so far been unable to say who hired them. One of the men has told investigators the three were paid about $165,000 for the killing, according to a Reuters report.

Mr. Fenech, one of Malta’s richest men, has told police Mr. Schembri was the mastermind behind the murder, two people briefed on the investigation said on Thursday.

Mr. Schembri was released from custody late on Thursday. He has made no statement since his arrest but had previously denied any connection to the killing of Ms. Caruana Galizia.

The two-year-old investigation accelerated dramatically this month after fresh evidence was uncovered, leading to the arrest last week of Mr. Fenech, who was stopped as he tried to leave Malta on his luxury yacht.

Mr. Muscat has repeatedly dismissed accusations of wrongdoing leveled at his inner circle over the past few years and is now facing growing calls to resign because of his alleged failure to hold friends and colleagues to account.

His tourism minister quit earlier this week, while the economy minister suspended himself from the government as the murder probe continued. Both denied involvement in the case.

The president canceled a trip to London next week because of the crisis, while the prime minister pulled out of an event on Thursday evening.

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