Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Malta PM defends actions as opposition quits parliament

Joseph Muscat announced on Sunday he would step down next month

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat talks to the media as he arrives at his office at Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta, December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat talks to the media as he arrives at his office at Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta, December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Monday defended his government’s handling of the murder in 2017 of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and called for national unity after days of protests.

Police on Saturday charged one country’s wealthiest businessmen, Yorgen Fenech, with complicity in the killing.

Mr Fenech has denied the accusations and accused members of Mr Muscat’s inner circle of ordering the death.

Mr Muscat announced on Sunday that he would step down next month, giving his Labour Party time to select a new leader.

Opposition politicians walked out of Parliament on Monday to protest against the delayed departure, hurling bundles of fake cash at the government benches as they left.

Outside the building, hundreds of protesters chanted “Mafia, mafia”.

Speaking to a half-empty house, Mr Muscat appeared relaxed, joking at times as he justified the investigation, which he said was Malta’s biggest.

“The case showed that Malta’s institutions work and everyone is equal before the law,” he said.

Mr Fenech has denied orchestrating Caruana Galizia's death, caused by a bomb in her car.

He sought legal immunity in return for revealing information about the murder plot and alleged corruption involving Mr Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi court filings showed.

The government has rejected his bid for immunity.

Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi resigned last week and have denied wrongdoing. Mr Schembri was questioned for two days by police after his resignation before being released without charge.

Both men had been suing Caruana Galizia for libel over accusations she made about their business deals.

Critics are angry with Mr Muscat for sticking by Mr Schembri, and for including him in security briefings on the investigation even after Mr Fenech was identified as a suspect in the murder and as an associate of Mr Schembri.

“Muscat wants to manipulate the police investigation to save himself and his best friend Keith Schembri,” opposition leader Adrian Delia told Parliament.

“This is unacceptable for the opposition. We are walking out and will not participate in proceedings for as long as Joseph Muscat remains Prime Minister.”

Caruana Galizia’s family said Mr Muscat should have no further involvement in the case and petitioned a court to ensure he was excluded from further access to information.

“It’s completely intolerable and it’s absolutely disgraceful that he’s trying to hang on to power,” said Caruana Galizia’s sister, Corrine Vella.

Mr Muscat said he would handle only day-to-day administration until a new leader was chosen.

“We now need unity," he said. "Part of that is shouldering responsibility, not just for one’s own actions but also for possible shortcomings."

Updated: December 2, 2019 11:35 PM

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