The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri resigned last night following a turbulent week in which suspects were arrested in connection with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Prime Minister announced today that he had accepted Schembri’s resignation, saying Schembri “had decided to move on” and that Schembri was resigning “to allow the government to continue working in a serene way”.
The announcement followed news reports of a late-night meeting held between Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff at Muscat’s home last night after new evidence on Schembri was submitted to the police.
Caruana Galizia’s son, Andrew, described Yorgen Fenech as the ‘third layer’ in the assassination plot, saying that the country is bracing itself for news of a link between Schembri and Caruana Galizia’s assassination. His brothers, Paul and Matthew, retweeted on similar lines,
Malta prime minister’s chief of staff @keithachembri has just resigned.
Yorgen Fenech, arrested for my mother’s assassination, implicated Schembri under interrogation last night.
— Paul Caruana Galizia (@pcaruanagalizia) November 26, 2019
Newsbook reported sources saying that Fenech, who is expected to be arraigned today, had reacted strongly to the news that Melvin Theuma, the so-called middleman in the assassination was pardoned by the government, and name-dropped more than one very highly placed person in politics – including Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Schembri. Cardona had already been called to the police headquarters over the weekend, downplaying its significance.
Muscat has announced that Mark Farrugia will be replacing Schembri. Farrugia was Schembri’s right hand man, working alongside him in the Office of the Prime Minister as deputy chief of staff. It is understood that Schembri is being interrogated by the police.
Caruana Galizia’s family has said that they expect Schembri to be prosecuted, even as international press freedom and human rights organisations expressed concern on political interference in the investigation into the assassination. “Keith Schembri has resigned. Now he must be prosecuted. It is long overdue.”
In a statement later, the family said that Schembri should be immediately prosecuted “for his wide-ranging and long-running criminal activity.”
“As the authorities finally turn to Schembri, we urge them to uncover why Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has protected him and Konrad Mizzi for three years. The failure to prosecute Schembri, Mizzi and their protectors had fatal consequences for our wife and mother,” they added.
“It has finally happened. The Prime Minister’s chief of staff has resigned and is being interrogated by the police. He must now be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Justice must be served,” said PN MEP David Casa who has never relented in his pursuit for justice for the journalist.
Muscat thanked Schembri for all his work over the past years, saying he had “a crucial role”. It is unclear what the Prime Minister was referring to as wave after wave of scandals have rocked the core of government since the release of the Panama Papers.
The Prime Minister even thanked Schembri for “shouldering this responsibility”. It is unclear what Muscat was referring to since in his announcement he referred to Schembri “moving on”.
“At this point in time, the country needs stability and my mandate and all the decisions that I will take in the next hours and days will be aimed to assure this stability for the institutions to operate serenely,” Muscat said.
The report by the Venice Commission on Malta pointed out the excessive power held by the Prime Minister, saying the country lacked effective checks and balances usually sustained by independent institutions that in Malta are under the control of the Prime Minister. The Commission said Muscat’s powers also widely overshadowed government bodies including the President, Parliament, the Cabinet, the judiciary and the Ombudsman.
“I will take the advice given to me not to speak while the investigation is going on so that when, in the next few hours and days, the investigation is closed, I will give a full account of my responsibility and the decisions I have taken,” said the Prime Minister seemingly already aware of the conclusions of the investigation and the questions he will face on his decisions over the past two years.