November 23, 2019 / 3:01 PM / 9 months ago

Maltese businessman seeks pardon in return for murder info: police sources

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech, arrested by Malta police as a person of interest in the murder of an anti-corruption journalist, has asked for a pardon in return for information about the case, police sources said on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: People gather at the Great Siege Square 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/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

He is the second man to seek a pardon after Melvin Theuma, under arrest on suspicion of having been a middleman in the murder, made a similar request earlier in the week.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has already agreed to give a pardon to Theuma if he gives full information that could be used in court.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb on Oct. 16, 2017 and three men are awaiting trial accused of having set off the bomb, but police have yet to identify who commissioned the murder.

Fenech was intercepted on his yacht as he tried to leave Malta on Nov. 20, shortly after news of Theuma’s arrest was made public.

Maltese Economy Minister Christian Cardona was briefly questioned on Saturday in connection with the murder investigation, an official source close to the minister told Reuters.

The Economy Ministry later said in a statement, “Chris Cardona was asked to provide some clarifications, including on speculations that were made about him in the past.”

It made no comment on the nature of the speculations.

Cardona had been a frequent target of Caruana Galizia’s blog posts, and had sued her after she accused him of visiting a brothel while on official business abroad. He has always denied the accusation.

Maltese media reported that Theuma had incriminating recordings about the murder in his possession and that these had now been handed to a magistrate. The police have not confirmed the reports.

Lawyers for Theuma and Fenech have not yet made any official comment on the case.

Caruana Galizia’s family have asked Muscat to distance himself from the investigation due to a potential conflict of interest in view of Fenech’s links to the prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

Muscat rejected suggestions on Friday that he should not be the person who decides on pardons in the case.

“It is obvious I do not shelter anyone, I will do whatever is necessary, when it is necessary,” Muscat said.

A Reuters investigations last year revealed that Fenech was the owner of a mystery Dubai company called 17 Black which emails named as one of two sources of income for secret Panama companies set up for Schembri and Mizzi.

FILE PHOTO - Yorgen Fenech of the Tumas Group talks with VIP guests during the opening of the Oracle Casino in St Paul's Bay, Malta, June 4, 2014. Jeremy Wonnacott/Malta Government Department of Information/Handout via REUTERS

Mizzi had been energy minister when a power station contract was awarded to a group led by Fenech. It is not known whether any funds actually changed hands. Mizzi and Schembri have always denied wrongdoing and Muscat has repeatedly resisted calls for their dismissal.

“The prime minister has no place anywhere near the investigation and we trust that he will now distance himself from it” Caruana Galizia’s family said in a statement on Friday.

“Too many people have worked too hard for too long for justice. The prime minister should not derail, in one final attempt, full justice for our wife and mother,” they added.

Additional reporting by Stephen Grey; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alexandra Hudson

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