June 12, 2018 / 9:07 AM / in 12 days

Judge orders removal of investigator from Malta journalist murder case

VALLETTA (Reuters) - The lead investigator into the murder of Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia must be removed from the case because of a conflict of interest, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Police Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta addresses a news conference about investigations into the assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, at police headquarters in Floriana, Malta, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

The investigator, Maltese Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, is the husband of government minister Justyne Caruana and also sat on the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

Both the government and FIAU were targets of critical reports by the anti-corruption journalist, and Caruana Galizia’s family had long-demanded that Valletta be pulled from the case.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October. Three men have been charged with her murder and have pleaded not guilty. The police say they are still looking for the mastermind.

FILE PHOTO: People hold up pictures of assassinated anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a vigil and demonstration marking seven months since her murder in a car bomb, at her makeshift memorial outside the Courts of Justice in Valletta, Malta May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

In Tuesday’s ruling, Judge Silvio Meli said it was natural for doubts to be raised when an investigator in such a case had political ties, was the husband of a minister and a FIAU director.

He ordered Valletta to step aside and said the deputy commissioner’s involvement in the investigation must be reviewed by his replacement.

Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, welcomed the move, calling it an “important and necessary step towards justice”.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Heavens

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