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Maltese PM's former aide released in Daphne murder enquiry

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By Reuters

By Chris Scicluna

VALLETTA (Reuters) – Maltese police said on Thursday that they had released Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, who had been under arrest for questioning in connection with the 2017 murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Schembri resigned as chief of staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Tuesday after a person involved in the investigation, businessman Yorgen Fenech, implicated him in the car bomb murder.

“The police at this stage see no reason to hold Mr Schembri under arrest,” they said in a statement.

The release came at the same time as Fenech, still under arrest and under a heavy police escort, went to court to file a constitutional application seeking a presidential pardon.

His lawyers deposited a letter to President George Vella formally saying Fenech could supply information related to former chief of staff Schembri, former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Economic Affairs Minister Chris Cardona and other people “close to the prime minister.”

The lawyers point out that a presidential pardon is granted on the advice of the Cabinet, and that the Cabinet has delegated its power to the prime minister.

“Since this case is about persons very close to the prime minister, it should not be the prime minister or a member of his cabinet to give such advice,” they said.

“Yorgen Fenech has a right for his request to be considered without intervention by persons who may have an interest for such a pardon not to be granted.”

The lawyers also called for the removal of chief investigator Keith Arnaud, claiming he was close to Keith Schembri who had an interest in stopping Fenech from being able to implicate him. The court will consider the request on Friday.

The Cabinet was holding a late night meeting on Thursday. No official reason was given, but Maltese media said ministers were probably considering Fenech’s request for a pardon.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has already approved the granting of a pardon to Melvin Theuma, a suspected middleman in the murder plot.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb on Oct. 16, 2017. Three men are awaiting trial for having set off the bomb.

(Reporting by Stephen Grey and Chris Scicluna; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones and Marguerita Choy)