Malta MPs back PM amid growing protests over reporter's murder

Malta's ruling party MPs have thrown their support behind Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in an emergency meeting called after an explosive investigation into assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Protesters took to the streets of Valetta on Sunday as pressure grows on Muscat to step down.

The lawmakers gave “unanimous support to all decision which the prime minister will be taking”, in a statement after a four-hour crisis meeting. They did not give any sign as to what Muscat would do next.

Maltese civil society groups have continued to call for Muscat to step down after an investigation into the 2017 car bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Findings from the probe resulted in charges against Yorgen Fenech, a 38-year-old businessman with links to high-ranking officials and ministers. He was charged Saturday with complicity to murder, among other charges. He has pled not guilty on all counts.

Court filings indicate that Fenech had requested immunity in exchange for information about Caruana Galizia’s murder and corruption within the prime minister’s office, involving Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, and former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, 

The pair both resigned on Tuesday. They have denied the accusations.

'Immediate resignation'

Civil society groups Republika and Occupy Justice organised the march on Sunday afternoon on the streets of the capital to call for Muscat’s immediate resignation.

Videos on social media showed thousands of people with signs that read “Go now, Joe” and “Mafia” on the streets of Valetta.

There were earlier reports that Muscat was to announce his resignation at Sunday's meeting and stay on in office until a successor was chosen, probably in January.

But with the support of his MPs, the next steps are not clear.

Caruana Galizia’s son, Paul Caruana Galizia, also a journalist, has been at the forefront seeking justice for his mother.

In a chilling tweet on Sunday, he posted an April 2017 tweet from Muscat’s then-chief of staff Schembri saying, “The assassination had already been commissioned”. He pointed out that a number of cabinet members had liked and retweeted the comment.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in October.

Cardona returns

In the same statement backing Muscat, the Labour Party on Sunday also announced that Economy Minister Chris Cardona, who suspended himself after he was implicated in the investigation, had now reinstated himself. He says he had nothing to do with the reporter's killing and denies accusations of corruption.

Before she died, Caruana Galizia had reported on a money trail and secret companies set up in Panama by Muscat chief of staff Schembri and tourism Minister Mizzi.

She had also identified the company 17 Black that was used to deposit money into these companies.

The Times of Malta and Reuters continued the investigation after her murder and found that Fenech was the owner of 17 Black.