Malta casino mogul Yorgen Fenech has been charged with the murder of an anti-corruption journalist.
Fenech, one of Malta’s richest men, was arrested earlier this month in connection with the 2017 car-bomb attack on journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was charged with murder on Friday.
The tycoon was intercepted by police as he allegedly tried to flee the country on his yacht on November 20.
The murder investigation has caught international media attention and has upturned Europe’s online gambling market. Malta is a casino mecca that has hosted some of the grandest industry events like the iGaming Summit Sigma in 2019.
Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat announced he would resign on January 18 following criticism of how the case was handled. Thousands took to the streets to protest until he complied with their calls, including Caruana Galizia’s family. It has been alleged that three members of Muscat’s inner circle were entangled in the affair.
Addressing the nation on live TV on Sunday, Muscat said, “It is not right that a person, with her good and bad, who contributed to democracy, had to be killed this way… The anger and disappointment are understandable, and it is never justified to somehow justify the murder. But neither can disorder and violence be justified under the guise of protest.”
He added that no one was above the law, and that investigations into the murder would continue.
It wasn’t enough for Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who is leading the European parliament’s emergency fact-finding mission to Malta, who said she was “not reassured” and called for him to resign immediately. She added that the trust between the EU and Malta had been seriously damaged by the events.
Fenech had asked for a presidential pardon in return for implicating three top government officials, who he claimed were involved in the murder. The trio was named as Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Konrad Mizzi, tourism minister, and Chris Cardona, an economic minister.
All three resigned last month but denied any involvement in the case. Fenech’s request for pardon was denied.
At a brief arraignment before appearing in front of the magistrate’s court in Valletta, Fenech was charged with “promoting, organizing or financing a group with the intention of carrying out a criminal offense, actively participating in this criminal organization by giving information, material means, or the recruitment of new members whilst aware of the purpose of this organization.”
He was also charged with “Complicity in the willful homicide of Daphne Caruana Galizia, conspiracy to commit a crime in Malta punishable by imprisonment, and complicity in causing an explosion which caused Caruana Galizia’s death.”
The 38-year-old spoke only to confirm his personal details before a “not guilty” plea was filed by his lawyers. If found guilty, he faces life in prison.
Last year, Fenech was identified as the owner of 17 Black, a Dubai registered company that Caruana Galizia was investigating before her death. 17 Black had allegedly planned to make a payment of $2 million to secret offshore companies owned by government officials Schembri and Mizzi.
Vince Muscut, alleged also involved in the murder, shared a previously untold account of the events leading up to the death in April 2018, in the hope of receiving a pardon. Details remained secret until late November to avoid damaging the investigation, and Muscat’s request for pardon has been denied.
The account shared that the killers were contracted for €150,000 at Busy Bee Cafe for the murder.
Before her death, Daphne Caruana Galizia put the scandals of Malta on her blog Running Commentary for years. Her murder puts her alongside journalists Anna Politskoskaya and Hrant Dink, both of whom were killed for exposing corruption in their own countries, Russia and Turkey respectively.