November 25, 2019 / 3:08 PM / 19 days ago

Malta grants pardon to suspected middleman in journalist murder - police sources

VALLETTA (Reuters) - A man suspected of being the middleman in the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has been granted a presidential pardon, police sources said on Monday.

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

The move indicated that investigators believe the man, named as Melvin Theuma, has given them solid evidence they can use in court to try to convict the person who ordered the killing.

Caruana Galizia, one of Malta’s best-known investigative journalists, was blown up as she left her home on Oct. 16, 2017.

The murder shocked Europe and raised questions about rule of law on the Mediterranean island.

Three men are awaiting trial for setting off the bomb.

Theuma was arrested on Nov. 14 in a separate anti-money laundering case but offered to provide information on the 2017 murder of in exchange for a pardon. Local media reported that he has audio recordings and text messages to back his claims.

The police have not confirmed the reports or said what information he has handed over.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said last week he would recommend a pardon if Theuma’s evidence was corroborated and could stand up in court. A day after news of Theuma’s arrest was leaked, police detained Yorgen Fenech, a prominent businessman regarded as a person of interest in the case.

Police sources said on Saturday that Fenech too had requested a pardon in return for information about the case.

A pardon is granted by the president on the advice of the government. A president cannot refuse to issue a pardon once it has been recommended by the government.

Theuma, 41, is a taxi driver who regularly worked at an apartment complex owned by Fenech. Previous court appearances have shown that he was also involved in many illicit activities, including running a secret, multi-million euro lottery and as a loan shark, offering loans at extremely high interest rates.

Neither Theuma nor Fenech have made any public comments since their arrests.

A trail-blazing journalist, Caruana Galizia regularly posted allegations of corruption on her blog and on various occasions targeted Fenech as well as members of the government, including Economy Minister Chris Cardona, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Police briefly called in Cardona for questioning on Saturday in connection with the case. He has denied any wrongdoing, as have Mizzi and Schembri.

Government lawmakers met on Monday to discuss the situation, with some calling openly for resignations to protect the reputation of the ruling Labour party.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan

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