Malta’s prime minister says he is considering doing a pardon deal with an alleged money launderer suspected of being the middleman in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
But PM Joseph Muscat said the suspect must first give evidence in court, the Times of Malta reported.
Caruana Galizia, a prominent anti-corruption blogger, was killed by a car bomb in 2017. Malta’s handling of the case has drawn international criticism.
In all, four suspects are in custody.
Three men – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their 50s – have been charged with triggering the car bomb which killed Caruana Galizia near her home in October 2017. They were arrested in December 2017 and pleaded not guilty in pre-trial proceedings.
Vincent Muscat is not related to the prime minister.
Caruana Galizia investigated alleged high-level corruption in Malta. The murder – bearing the hallmarks of a contract killing – shocked not only Maltese society but also Malta’s EU partners.
The new suspect, arrested on Thursday, has not been named. He is suspected of having linked the mastermind of the murder plot to the alleged killers and accomplices who helped procure the explosive device, the Times of Malta reported.
“I gave a mandate to the attorney general to negotiate with the person’s lawyers to take an unprecedented step,” Prime Minister Muscat was quoted as saying.
“If the person collaborates and the information provided is sufficient to prosecute the mastermind of this crime, they will receive a presidential pardon.”
Mr Muscat said the suspected middleman was under tight police protection and his questioning in custody would continue for several days.
The Times of Malta says experts from Europol – the EU police agency – accompanied Maltese police on the raid that targeted a suspected money-laundering ring. The Europol officers seized devices in the alleged middleman’s possession.
In October, the press freedom organisation Reporters without Borders issued a detailed report on the Caruana Galizia case, sharply criticising the “flawed” Maltese investigation.
Europe’s top human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe (CoE), had urged Mr Muscat’s government to launch an independent public inquiry into the murder, but when the government complied in September, the CoE voiced concerns that it would not be impartial enough.
The government then agreed to change the inquiry panel and its terms of reference, following talks with Caruana Galizia’s family. The inquiry is led by retired Judge Michael Mallia, assisted by two other judges, instead of the law professor and retired forensics expert previously appointed.
Lawsuits against family
Separately, the CoE’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, complained that Caruana Galizia’s family was subject to some 30 civil defamation suits relating to her investigations, and that “pursuing these lawsuits puts unjustified psychological and financial pressure on the family”.
Ms Mijatovic’s letter to PM Muscat said that pursuing such claims was perceived as “intimidation” and raised questions about the authorities’ commitment to solving the murder case.
Mr Muscat’s response to Ms Mijatovic defended the lawsuits, including one of his own against the family.
He said his government “cannot interfere in, abolish or truncate civil actions started by third parties and private citizens against the heirs of a deceased journalist”.
He said he would be ready to drop his libel suit against Caruana Galizia’s heirs “if the Caruana Galizia family make a declaration to the effect that they accept the findings of the Egrant Inquiry”.
That inquiry, headed by a magistrate, cleared Mr Muscat and his wife of any wrongdoing.
Caruana Galizia had alleged that Mr Muscat’s wife was the beneficial owner of a secret Panama company used to channel funds from Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family. Mr Muscat and his wife vehemently denied the allegations.
Malta’s attorney general said the 15-month investigation had failed to establish any links between the family of the prime minister and the Panama-based Egrant company.