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Malta businessman held on yacht in journalist murder probe

A Maltese businessman has been arrested as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago.

The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia stunned Maltese society
The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia stunned Maltese society

Yorgen Fenech was detained by armed officers after his yacht was intercepted and searched.

It comes a day after PM Joseph Muscat said he would consider a pardon for the alleged middleman in the case.

Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption blogger, was killed by a car bomb near her home in October 2017.

Malta’s handling of the case has drawn international criticism.

Mr Muscat referred to Mr Fenech as “a person of interest” in the case when addressing local media. A government source later confirmed to the BBC that Mr Fenech was arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation.

Witnesses quoted by the Times of Malta said Mr Fenech’s luxury yacht was intercepted by an armed patrol boat as it left the port of Portomaso, north of Valletta, early on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mr Muscat said the alleged money launderer suspected of being the middleman would first have to give evidence in court before a pardon could be issued.

“I gave a mandate to the attorney general to negotiate with the person’s lawyers to take an unprecedented step,” Prime Minister Muscat was quoted as saying.

“If the person collaborates and the information provided is sufficient to prosecute the mastermind of this crime, they will receive a presidential pardon.”

Who is Yorgen Fenech?

Mr Fenech heads the Tumas Group and is a director of energy generating company Electrogas.

He has also been identified by Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) as being the owner of a Dubai-registered company called 17 Black.

In June the Council of Europe named 17 Black in a resolution outlining “fundamental weaknesses” that had allowed major scandals to go unchecked in Malta.

Its report said 17 Black had been expected to make large monthly payments to secret Panama companies owned by senior Maltese officials and had also received large sums of money from an Azerbaijani national.

Who else has been arrested?

As well as the suspected middleman – who has not been named – three other suspects are in custody over the journalist’s murder.

Three men – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their 50s – have been charged with triggering the car bomb which killed Caruana Galizia near her home in October 2017. They were arrested in December 2017 and pleaded not guilty in pre-trial proceedings.

Vincent Muscat is not related to the prime minister.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Caruana Galizia was an investigative reporter who, in her 30-year career, had worked for the local Sunday Times and Malta Independent newspapers.

But by the time she was killed she was best known for her anti-corruption blog Running Commentary, which she had been compiling since 2008.

After a piece on the Panama Papers leak and its implications in Malta, the news site Politico described her as “a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta, an island nation famous for both”.

She was regularly threatened or hit with defamation claims from the powerful figures she exposed. She was also on the receiving end of intimidation and threats to her life.

Before her death, Caruana Galizia was considering leaving Malta out of concern for her safety. However, she refused to be put under permanent police protection – she said it would make it impossible for her to do her job.

She published her final blog post just half an hour before she was killed.

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” she wrote. “The situation is desperate.” BBC News