Police investigating murder of Malta journalist arrest local businessman

The boat belonging to Dubai-registered enterprise '17 Black' owner Yorgen Fenech, berthed in Portomaso Harbour after being intercepted at sea by the Armed Forces of Malta and returned to Malta early 20 November 2019. [Domenic Aquilina/EPA/EFE]

Malta police arrested one of the country’s most prominent businessmen on Wednesday (20 November) as part of an investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Yorgen Fenech was detained by armed forces as he tried to leave the Mediterranean island before dawn aboard his luxury yacht.

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

Muscat told reporters he had ordered additional police surveillance after news of the alleged go-between emerged.

“Had I not done that, today we might be talking of a person or persons of interest having potentially escaped,” he said.

Muscat gave no further details on the grounds for Fenech’s arrest.

Fenech’s lawyer was contacted for comment but has so far issued no statement. Under Maltese law, the police have 48 hours to interrogate and charge him or release him.

Caruana Galizia, an eminent anti-corruption journalist, was killed by a car bomb near the Maltese capital Valletta in October 2017 – a murder that shocked Europe and raised questions about the rule of law on the small island.

Murder of Malta’s top investigative journalist provokes shock and outrage

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s top investigative journalist, was killed on Monday (16 October) when the car she was driving exploded shortly after she left her home.

Eight months before her death, she wrote about a mysterious company in Dubai called 17 Black Limited, alleging it was connected to Maltese politicians, but offered no evidence.

A Reuters investigation last year revealed that Fenech was the owner of the firm.

Payments

According to a December 2015 email, uncovered by Maltese financial regulators, secret Panama companies owned by then Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, stood to receive payments of up to $2 million from 17 Black for unspecified services.

Sole EU minister named in Panama Papers is Malta’s Konrad Mizzi

Maltese journalists and bloggers have found that the only minister from an EU member state identified in the Panama papers of clients of tax evasion schemes is Malta’s Health and Energy Minister, Konrad Mizzi.

Schembri and Mizzi both told Reuters last October they had no knowledge of any connection between 17 Black and Fenech. Fenech denied making any plans to pay any politician or any person or entity connected to them.

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