How a Two-Year-Old Murder Case Brought Down Malta’s Government

An image grabbed from a video shows Malta's Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat addressing the media at his office in Castille, Valletta, announcing that his chief of Staff had handed in his resignation on November 26, 2019. - Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on November 26, 2019 his chief of staff Keith Schembri had resigned amid an ongoing probe into the murder of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia. (Photo by Matthew Mirabelli / AFP) (Photo by MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Why you should care

Malta’s left-wing government just collapsed over corruption, murder and a cover-up.

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WHAT TO KNOW

Investigation Into The Murdered Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

VALLETTA, MALTA – MARCH 09: Flowers and tributes for the murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Slovak journalists Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, who were found shot dead at their home near Bratislava on 25 February, lay at the foot of the Great Siege monument on March 09, 2018 in Valletta, Malta. This series of images forms part of an investigation by the Guardian newspaper into the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was a Maltese journalist and anti-corruption blogger and was killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images for the Daphne Project )

Source Getty Images

What happened? Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced last night that he’ll step down Jan. 12 to give his party time to come up with a successor. The last two weeks have seen a spectaular fall from grace over cronyism and alleged complicity in the murder of a 53-year-old journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated Maltese corruption before a car bomb two years ago claimed her life.   

Why does it matter? Muscat, who before entering politics was a journalist himself, has presided over the renaissance of Malta’s left-wing Labour Party for the last six years. But after Malta’s richest man, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, was charged with complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder last Saturday, things have swiftly fallen apart: Muscat’s chief of staff was linked to Fenech, then resigned and was arrested. Now the scandal has claimed Muscat too — though Caruana Galizia’s family wants him to leave office immediately and not wait until mid-January. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

MALTA-CRIME-MEDIAS-CORRUPTION-DEMO

Journalists gather outside the Parliament in Valletta, Malta, on October 19, 2017 in a silent commemoration to mark their sorrow at the murder of blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia and to promise that the savage attack will not intimidate the profession. They carried placards calling for freedom of expression, democracy and justice as they walked from city gate to the Great Siege monument, which has been turned into a temporary shrine for the blogger. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent Maltese journalist and blogger who made repeated and detailed corruption allegations against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s inner circle, was killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Matthew Mirabelli / Malta OUT (Photo credit should read MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Source Getty Images

Changing winds. Despite allegations of corruption, Muscat was a popular leader. In early November, a Malta Today poll found that just over half of respondents trusted Muscat more than other political leaders (down from an all-time high of 54 percent a year earlier). His tenure has seen Malta’s bona fides on things like LGBT rights move forward swiftly and surely — but Muscat had said as long ago as 2018 that he wouldn’t seek reelection, so it’s possible his personal downfall won’t unduly affect the island nation’s political trajectory. 

Family ties. The campaign for justice for Caruana Galizia has been spearheaded by her family — specifically her oldest son, Matthew, who told OZY that while he knew his mother’s investigative journalism work was important, “her murder was a possibility that I simply never considered.” Today the family has asked Maltese courts to keep Muscat from being involved in the ongoing investigation — except as a suspect. In recent days, Muscat’s chief of staff and tourism minister resigned after Fenech’s lawyers reportedly offered information on them in exchange for a pardon (which was denied).

Next steps. While no favorites have been named in the race to replace Muscat, it may happen without a national election. Instead, the new prime minister could be selected by the Labour Party as part of an internal leadership election. Unless a snap election is called, whoever’s selected will likely be in power until the next scheduled general election in 2022.  

WHAT TO READ

How a Dog Called Peter Sparked Malta’s Political Crisis, by Juliette Garside in The Guardian

“What happens in Malta has come to matter to Europe, and those who see threats to the rule of law within its borders.”

Malta Arrests in Daphne Caruana Galizia Murder Still Don’t Solve the Crime, by Barbie Latza Nadeau in The Daily Beast

“Vella and other family members maintain that they would also like to see her sister’s many investigations into corruption by Malta’s top officials lead to arrests.” 

WHAT TO WATCH

What Lies in Store for Malta’s Prime Minister Muscat?

“Many think that people power can help clean up the country.”

Watch on DW on YouTube:

Malta Tycoon Charged in Journalist’s Car Bomb Killing

“The country has seen many protests over [Muscat]’s handling of this case.”

Watch on CBC on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Intrigue. Maltese Economy Minister Chris Cardona briefly stepped aside but was reinstated yesterday. Fenech told police he was handed a typewritten letter by his doctor after his arrest  — which he believes was penned by Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who uses the same doctor — instructing him to lay the blame for Caruana Galizia’s murder on Cardona. Schembri denies writing any such letter.

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