VALLETTA – Maltese authorities arrested a prominent businessman Wednesday who appears to be a “person of interest” in the assassination of a prominent investigative reporter on the Mediterranean island.
Yorgen Fenech was on a yacht heading north from Malta that was intercepted by the Maltese military early Wednesday and forced back to port.
In remarks to reporters, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not directly tie the arrest to the slaying of 53-year-old Daphne Caruana Galizia in a powerful car bomb in October 2017.
But he did say that it appeared to result from comments he made a day earlier on the possibility of a pardon for an alleged middleman who had offered to identify the mastermind of the killing.
“If I had not given these instructions, maybe today we might be speaking of persons of interest who might have escaped,” Muscat told reporters.
He declined to comment further out of concern that any comments might prejudice a case.
The slain journalist’s three sons were more direct in their comments on Twitter, making a link between the arrest and their mother’s assassination.
The prime minister said no politician is tied to Caruana Galizia’s murder, but her sons have said the arrested businessman is tied to Muscat’s chief of staff and a former energy minister.
In Parliament later, Muscat said he was willing to put himself under the scrutiny of lawmakers and answer questions once the investigations were concluded.
“I will not abdicate, I will shoulder my responsibility,” he said.
No details of the charges against Fenech have been revealed. Authorities have 48 hours to decide how to proceed.
On Wednesday evening, protesters gathered in front of Muscat's office for a demonstration.
They carried placards with photos of Caruana Galizia and messages calling for resignations. A banner placed across the main door of the premier's office read "No to corruption."
Fenech is a prominent hotelier and director of the Maltese power company. His name appeared in the Panama Papers three years ago — millions of leaked documents that shed light on how the rich hide their money.
Caruana Galizia alleged on her blog eight months before her death that a company called 17 Black Ltd. that was listed in the documents was connected to Maltese politicians.
She was unable to discover who owned the company, and it remained unclear whether 17 Black had significance as part of her investigation into links between businessmen and the Maltese government.
That reporting was picked up by the Daphne Project after her murder. It reported in April 2018 that Malta’s anti-money laundering watchdog had identified Fenech, the chief executive of a Maltese property developer, as the owner of 17 Black.
The Daphne Project followed a paper trail to two Panama companies in the name of two people close to Muscat — his chief of staff and the former energy minister — that stood to receive payments from 17 Black for unspecified services. There is no evidence the payments went ahead.