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  • Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after an urgent Cabinet meeting at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta November 29, 2019.

    Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after an urgent Cabinet meeting at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta November 29, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 December 2019

Thousands of people took part earlier on Sunday in an anti-government protest with members of the Caruana Galizia family leading the march.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced Sunday he plans to step down, saying he would ask his ruling Labour Party to start choosing a new leader for the country next month, amid the crisis over the probe into the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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“I will write to the president of the Labour Party so that the process for a new leader is set for Jan. 12 2020. On that day I will resign as leader of the Labour Party. In the days after I will resign as prime minister,” Muscat said.

Earlier on Sunday thousands of people took to the streets in an anti-government protest in the capital of the small Mediterranean archipelago, with members of the Caruana Galizia family leading the march; although there was no immediate reaction from the family, which had called for Muscat to step down.

This comes a day later one of Malta’s wealthiest men Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity to murder in the car bomb killing of the anti-corruption journalist. 

The businessman, who was until this month chief executive of one of Malta’s largest companies, the property-to-energy Tumas Group conglomerate, has alleged ties to ministers and senior officials.

Vincent Muscat (no relation to the PM) and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio are accused of having planted and set off a bomb that exploded on Oct. 16, 2017. All three have pleaded not guilty and are still awaiting trial.

However, sources briefed on the murder investigation told Reuters that police regard Fenech as the mastermind of the journalist’s killing. Investigators told a court that the bomb was set off from a yacht off Valletta harbor.

But, in court filings, Fenech implicated Keith Schembri, a close friend, and Muscat’s former chief of staff, who was arrested Tuesday in connection with the murder but released without charge two days later.

Caruana, 53, was killed by a car bomb as she drove out of her home in Bidnija, 11 km from Valletta, just half an hour after writing a blog describing Schembri as “a crook”. The journalist had reported that Schembri and former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizziowned had secret companies in Panama, information released in the Panama Papers scandal. 

Leaked emails indicated those same companies intended to earn money from an offshore company called 17 Black. An investigation by Reuters and the Times of Malta showed that 17 Black was owned by Fenech.

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