Updated 4.10pm

Prime Minister Robert Abela has refused to say whether he recused himself while the cabinet was considering whether to grant a presidential pardon to one of the three alleged hitmen in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case. 

Times of Malta revealed on Wednesday that cabinet this week turned down the pardon request by Vincent Muscat, known as is il-Koħħu, but it remains unclear whether Abela was actually involved. 

The Prime Minister had last year said he was seeking advice on whether he should recuse himself from the decision after Times of Malta reported he had previously provided legal services to some of the people Muscat named to police.

But questioned on Wednesday, Abela refused to say whether he had abstained and repeatedly told Times of Malta he was precluded from commenting on issues discussed at cabinet level. 

When it was pointed out to him that he had last year confirmed he would be consulting over whether he should abstain from the decision, Abela again said he could not comment. 

"Even if you ask me a hundred times, I won't be able to comment," he said when questioned outside Castille on Wednesday afternoon.

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

The government officially confirmed that Muscat's pardon plea had been rejected in a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon. 

Both the attorney general and police commissioner had recommended refusal, the government said. 

Muscat's abstention

In 2019, former prime minister Joseph Muscat had abstained from taking a decision on a similar pardon requested by alleged murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech and let cabinet take the decision without him. He had recused himself after Fenech had named former chief of staff Keith Schembri as the mastermind of the murder. 

Abela also refused to give details on why the cabinet had decided to turn down the pardon request and whether President George Vella had been asked for his position on the matter. 

When pressed to say what the President had to say about the matter, Abela told Times of Malta to direct any such questions to Vella.

Muscat is one of three men, along with brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, facing charges of planting and setting off the bomb that killed the journalist outside her Bidnija home in October 2017. 

He denies the charges and in December 2019 formally requested the pardon in exchange for information about the murder and other major crimes which he has detailed to the police in hours of recorded interviews with investigators. 

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