Malta arrests businessman as ‘person of interest’ in journalist’s killing

  • >>Richard Pérez-Peña, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-11-21 01:22:55 BdST

A sign reading "Daphne was right" is photographed at the Great Siege Square as people gather calling for the resignation of Joseph Muscat, following the arrest of one of the country's most prominent businessmen, as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta November 20, 2019. Reuters

Authorities in Malta arrested a prominent businessman Wednesday in connection with the killing of the country’s best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had accused companies and politicians tied to him of corruption.

The businessman, Yorgen Fenech, was detained on his yacht just after it left port, as he tried to leave the country, local news outlets reported. The arrest is the biggest development in almost two years since the killing of Caruana Galizia, a case that had appeared to be stalled. Her family and friends have said that the government has no interest in solving it.

Police declined to comment about the arrest, but Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed to reporters that Fenech had been detained in connection with the murder case.

The announcement came a day after another man suspected of being a go-between in the killing was arrested, but it was not clear how, or whether, the two arrests were linked. Muscat had offered clemency to the man arrested Tuesday — his name was not released — if he would identify the person who had ordered the killing.

Caruana Galizia, 53, was killed in a car bombing on Oct 16, 2017, after years of making enemies of many of the most powerful people in a nation that has become known for smuggling and money laundering. Her reports were often described as flimsy and reckless, but she uncovered and drew attention to multiple scandals.

Fenech leads his family’s business, the Tumas Group, which owns hotels, casinos and commercial real estate. He is also a major investor in a shipping terminal and an energy company, Electro Gas Malta, a favourite target of Caruana Galizia’s.

While the company was trying to arrange financing to build a major power plant, she said the government’s backing for the project was tainted by corruption. The Daphne Project, a consortium of journalists and news organisations committed to continuing her work, reported that a natural gas deal related to the project could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

In the last months of her life, Caruana Galizia had also focused on a mysterious company called 17 Black. After she was killed, it was revealed that 17 Black had arranged to make payments from a bank account in Dubai to Panama companies owned by high-ranking officials in Muscat’s government.

Last year, a leaked government investigative report revealed who owned 17 Black: Fenech.

Six weeks after Caruana Galizia was killed, Maltese authorities arrested 10 people in the case, but only three were charged and none have stood trial.

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