January 20, 2020 / 12:08 PM / a month ago

Malta minister quits in latest fallout from journalist murder

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Another Maltese minister has quit after a paper reported links between her policeman husband and the man suspected of masterminding a journalist’s murder, the government said on Monday.

Corruption investigator Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb in October 2017, prompting a lengthy inquiry that has caused political turmoil on the Mediterranean island, including the resignation of the prime minister.

The latest official to quit was Justyne Caruana, a lawyer who was minister responsible for the small island of Gozo.

The Sunday Times of Malta said her husband, former assistant police commissioner Silvio Valletta, went to London to see a soccer match with businessman Yorgen Fenech in September 2018 when Fenech was already of interest in the investigation.

“I am submitting my resignation as minister with immediate effect in view of the press story issued, even though I am completely extraneous to it and have no connection to the facts,” the outgoing minister wrote in a letter, extracts of which the government published on Monday.

On Sunday, Valletta, who had been the lead investigator into the murder but was taken off the case in mid-2018 due to conflict of interest and resigned from the force last year, said he did not know Fenech was a suspect when they traveled.

“I never did anything wrong and would certainly never have gone abroad with anyone who I would have thought, or known to be under investigation,” he said.

Fenech, one of Malta’s wealthiest men with extensive ties to government, was charged with complicity to murder last year. Sources say police regard him as the mastermind of the journalist’s killing. He has denied the accusation.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a placard with a picture of Daphne Caruana Galizia during a protest demanding justice over the murder of the journalist and the immediate resignation and investigation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, outside the Court of Justice in Valletta, Malta, January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

The departing minister Caruana, who is not related to the journalist, was appointed by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in 2017 and confirmed by new premier Robert Abela last week.

“I always acted with the utmost correctness. I only ask to be allowed to defend my name in the interests of my children,” she added in her letter.

Various other officials from Muscat’s government have also resigned during the political storm over the murder, while Malta’s police chief quit a few days ago.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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