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Malta: Ex-PM Joseph Muscat's top aide freed on bail in corruption probe

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People gather for a protest called by the family of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and civic movements on December 3, 2019 outside the police HQ in Valletta.
People gather for a protest called by the family of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and civic movements on December 3, 2019 outside the police HQ in Valletta.   -   Copyright  ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP
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Former Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's chief of staff is said to have been released on police bail after being arrested in a corruption investigation.

The Times of Malta reports that Keith Schembri was freed on Tuesday evening, 20 hours after being detained as part of a money-laundering probe.

The investigation is into bribes linked to the sale of Maltese passports to wealthy people from countries outside the European Union.

This so-called “golden passports” traffic was denounced by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered in 2017, who had accused Muscat's former close associate of corruption.

Schembri was arrested after a court ordered the freezing of his property and businesses, and those of his family, police said. He is suspected of money laundering by Maltese prosecutors.

Malta started selling passports to rich foreigners in 2014, enabling companies or individuals to settle in the archipelago and therefore within the EU.

Schembri has been the subject of an investigation since 2017, to determine whether he received €100,000 in bribes from passport sales.

"Finally, things are moving in the fight against corruption in Malta," said German MEP Sven Giegold, from the European Green Party.

However, he added that "impunity for money laundering and corruption is systemic. Malta needs fundamental institutional reforms to strengthen the rule of law".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently declared that the practice of "golden passports" was against EU values.

Schembri resigned from his post as top adviser to the former prime minister in late 2019 after Joseph Muscat announced he was stepping down.

He had previously been arrested and questioned over Caruana Galizia's murder but police said they found no grounds to hold him.