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Explainer: Why is Malta's prime minister standing down over the murder of a journalist?

There have been weeks of protests against Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

MALTA’S PRIME MINISTER Joseph Muscat has announced that he will step down amid a long-running crisis triggered by the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

After two weeks of public protests, Muscat revealed in a televised address yesterday that he will step down in January after seven years as the leader of the European Union’s smallest member state.

malta-journalist-killed A protest against Joseph Muscat in Valletta. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

However his departure is unlikely to signal the end of the scandal that has engulfed his administration.

Why were protesters calling for Muscat’s resignation?

Long-brewing fury over Muscat’s handling of the inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s death reached fever pitch over the weekend when businessman Yorgen Fenech, who has strong ties to Muscat’s Labour Party, was charged with complicity in the murder. 

Critics of the Prime Minister have accused the 45-year-old of protecting those involved in murdering the journalist.

malta-journalist-killed Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressing the nation on Sunday. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

The murdered woman’s family has said that Muscat is deeply compromised, and blasted him for failing to clean up Maltese politics.

So, what did Daphne Caruana Galizia write about?

The popular journalist and blogger was described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. She spent much of her career shedding light on the murky underbelly of Maltese politics, exposing corruption and under the table dealings between the country’s political and financial elite.

daphne A memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia opposite the Maltese palace of justice. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

In the years before her death she wrote extensively in her widely read blog about allegations of corruption in Muscat’s inner circle, sometimes basing her writings on the Panama Papers data leak.

Malta’s so-called ‘Golden Visa’ programme and the country’s ties with Azerbaijan were among her areas of interest.

The controversial visa programme grants citizenship to people who donate €675,000 to the country’s national development fund and buy property worth €350,000.

The writer was both despised and admired for her cutting reporting style, which earned her many enemies. In the aftermath of her death, Muscat said she was probably his “biggest adversary”.

How was she killed?

The 53-year-old was killed in a car bomb attack close to the walled compound where she lived in northern Malta on 16 October 2017. 

peter Peter Caruana Galizia, husband to Daphne, at the scene of her death. Dan Kitwood / Getty Dan Kitwood / Getty / Getty

Investigative work by the Daphne Project, a team of dozens of journalists from around the world, found that her killers monitored her home and attached a trigger SIM to the bomb which was then detonated via text message.

The phone that sent the text was subsequently ditched in the ocean but was later recovered by police.

Following his mother’s death Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew spoke of how he rushed from his home when he heard the explosion and found his mother’s burnt out vehicle and parts of her body strewn across the road.

What do we know about the investigation into her death?

Three men in their 50s have been charged with triggering the bomb which killed the journalist. They are the brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, who is not related to the Maltese leader.

malta-journalist-killed The Parents of the Daphne Caruana Galizia at a protest in Valletta. RENE ROSSIGNAUD RENE ROSSIGNAUD

They were arrested in December 2017 and pleaded not guilty in pre-trial proceedings. Vincent Muscat later told police that the bomb was placed in Caruana Galizia’s car while it was parked outside her home and that the men were paid €150,000 for the killing,  Reuters reported in recent days.

Fenech, who is Malta’s richest man, was charged with complicity in the murder on Saturday. The property and gambling tycoon denies the allegation.

What are the connections between Muscat and Fenech?

Last year Fenech was identified as the owner of a Dubai-registered company called 17 Black, which was listed in the Panama Papers documents leak.

Investigations by authorities and reporters revealed links between Fenech and Keith Schembri, who was the prime minister’s chief of staff until he resigned last Monday, and the Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

There were allegations that 17 Black planned to make secret payments to Schembri and  Mizzi, who also resigned last week.

malta-journalist-slain A poster with the faces of Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat, Economy Minister Christian Cardona, and Konrad Mizzi. Zigli Jonathan Borg Zigli Jonathan Borg

Schembri was arrested the day after his resignation but was later released. His release came despite Fenech’s lawyers telling the courts that there is material linking him to the conspiracy.

Schembri has denied all allegations of wrongdoing but his release from prison has led critics to accuse Prime Minister Muscat of a cover-up.

When will the prime minister step down?

In Sunday’s televised address Muscat said he would resign as leader of the Labour Party on 12 January and as prime minister “in the days after”.

“Malta needs to start a new chapter and only I can give that signal,” he said.

The Caruana Galizia family called for him and his actions to be probed and for all related evidence to be preserved as part of the ongoing investigation, the Times of Malta reported today.

With reporting by AFP

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