Wealthy businessman charged in connection with murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

1 December 2019, 01:04 | Updated: 1 December 2019, 06:38

One of Malta's wealthiest men has been charged as an accomplice to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb.

Prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech has pleaded not guilty to being complicit in the murder, as well as membership of a criminal gang and conspiracy to cause an explosion.

Ms Caruana Galizia, 53, had been reporting on widespread corruption in Malta's political and business circles when her car was blown up as she drove home in 2017.

The probe into the journalist's murder has triggered a political crisis in the country, with the reporter's family alleging that Fenech has ties to close associates of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Ms Caruana Galizia's sister, Corinne Vella, said after the charges were announced: "What we now expect is the prime minister to leave office and to leave parliament."

She also called for investigations into Mr Muscat and his recently resigned chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

Mr Schembri, who quit his post this week, had been questioned over the case but was later released. Two more of Mr Muscat's ministers were questioned and have since resigned.

All deny any wrongdoing.

There have been increasing calls for the prime minister to resign, including from Ms Galizia's family.

Official sources said earlier on Saturday that Mr Muscat was expected to make a statement announcing his resignation, although no statement has yet been issued.

A spokesperson for the prime minister previously said he has "pledged various times that he wants to see this case through".

Three men are currently in jail as the alleged bombers, although a trial date for them has not been set.

In court filings, Fenech has said he intends to implicate other key members of Mr Muscat's government in the killing and other corruption.

He told journalists on Friday the "truth will come out".

Reuters news agency has reported that sources briefed on the investigation believe Fenech to be the mastermind of the murder plot.

The businessman was arrested on 20 November as he allegedly attempted to flee the island on his luxury yacht.

Ms Caruana Galizia had reported before her death that Mr Schembri and former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi owned secret companies in Panama which intended to earn money from an offshore company called 17 Black.

She never discovered who owned the offshore company.

But an investigation by Reuters and the Times of Malta, which intended to continue her reporting, identified Fenech as 17 Black's owner.

There is no evidence that funds were transferred to Mr Mizzi and Mr Shembri, and Mr Mizzi has denied any connection with 17 Black or the murder.