Malta Arrests 10 Suspects in Car Bomb Murder of Journalist

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese journalist

Ten Maltese suspects were arrested Monday over the Oct. 16 car bomb murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s prime minister and other authorities announced.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told reporters at a news conference that eight Maltese citizens were arrested on Monday morning due to a “reasonable suspicion” of their involvement in Caruana Galizia’s slaying. Shortly afterward, he tweeted that two others had been arrested.

Home Minister Michael Farrugia said the two additional suspects are also Maltese.

Caruana Galizia, whose reporting focused heavily on corruption on the EU island nation, was killed when a bomb destroyed her car as she was driving near her home.

Declining to give details on the arrests, Muscat cited concerns any information could compromise prospects to successfully prosecute the case. Farrugia said he wouldn’t go into details because “I have been already threatened by legal action by the Caruana Galizia family.”

Her family last month had alleged that Farrugia had divulged confidential information that could hamper the investigation. The minister brushed off the allegation, but the family said it was prepared to take legal action to prevent the government from sabotaging the investigation.

The investigation appeared to be continuing throughout Monday, as police and armed forces had cordoned off an area in Marsa, a small port town close to Valletta, the capital.

The arrests, made in an operation coordinated among the Police Corps, the Armed Forces of Malta and the Security Services, were the first known break in the murder that has drawn widespread outrage and condemnation.

Investigators have 48 hours to question the suspects to decide whether to seek charges, in accordance with Maltese law.

A court hearing was set for Tuesday, when the police can officially file charges. The suspects then can either plead innocent or guilty. The magistrate will decide whether to set bail or remand them in custody.

Europol, the European Union’s police agency, has sent a team of organized crime experts to help Maltese police investigate the assassination, joining the FBI and Dutch forensic experts.

Muscat told reporters Monday that when the evidence is compiled, during court proceedings “all the relevant information will be made public,” including input from the FBI and European investigators, including from Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation, as well as Maltese investigators.

Just before her death, Caruana Galizia, 53, had posted on her closely followed blog, Running Commentary, that there were “crooks everywhere” in Malta.

The island nation has a reputation as a tax haven in the European Union and has attracted companies and money from outside Europe as well.

Just last week, a visiting delegation of European Parliament lawmakers left the island expressing concerns over the rule of law in the tiny EU member country and issued a warning that the “perception of impunity in Malta cannot continue.”

Low tax rates and a popular government program that allows wealthy foreigners to buy Maltese citizenship have made the country an attractive place for investment, financial and other companies. Authorities, including anti-Mafia investigators in nearby Italy, worry that Malta is in the eye of criminals on the lookout for money-laundering schemes.

The journalist focused her reporting for years on investigating political corruption and scandals, and reported on Maltese mobsters and drug trafficking. She also wrote about Maltese links to the so-called Panama Papers leaks about offshore financial havens.

Many top officials had sued her over her reporting. Caruana Galizia made plain she didn’t trust the island’s police or judiciary to adequately investigate many of the wrongdoings she alleged.

Muscat said Monday of the slaying: “As I stated as soon as I learned about this barbaric act, we will leave no stone unturned to get this case solved.”

SOURCE: The Associated Press, Stephen Calleja