Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has signed a letter that assures a presidential pardon to a man who claims to know the mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder plot, once evidence is given and corroborated in court.
Dr Muscat told journalists that the pardon would apply to any cases he may be tried on, contingent on him giving evidence and co-operating with the authorities in those cases.
He made the announcement hours after Times of Malta revealed a pardon was on the table for the suspected 'middleman' in the journalist's murder after his arrest last week on a separate case.
Speaking to journalists on the stairs of the Auberge de Castille, Dr Muscat said that a joint operation between the police and Interpol had apprehended the man last Thursday.
Dr Muscat said that the middleman, through his lawyer, had requested a blanket pardon prior to handing over any evidence related to the murder of the 51-year-old journalist.
'Evidence needs to be corroborated
Dr Muscat, however, said he had discussed the matter with the Attorney General and investigators who agreed that handing over a blanket pardon without knowing the extent of the evidence this person could provide was not the best approach.
"I gave a mandate to the Attorney General to negotiate with the person’s lawyers to take an unprecedented step,” he said.
The PM said he had signed a letter which stipulated that once the evidence was given in court, he would recommend that a presidential pardon be given on the condition that the middleman also cooperate with the authorities on any other cases he may be involved in.
“If the person collaborates and the information provided is sufficient to prosecute the mastermind of this crime, they will receive a presidential pardon,” he said.
Dr Muscat said he was shouldering the political responsibility for the decision alone, particularly in light of past issues with presidential pardons.
"This is not a decision that will be discussed or decided in Cabinet. I have been authorized by Cabinet to take decisions such as this alone and I believe that given past cases, it is a decision that I must shoulder alone," he said.
'Beginning of the end'
Dr Muscat also appealed to the press to be "prudent". The case, he said, was not closed yet.
"There are still a number of days that the police need to talk to the person who is under very strict protection," he said.
Dr Muscat said that as he had previously pledged to leave no stone unturned, he was still committed to delivering justice.
The Prime Minister then indicated that this latest development could be the beginning of the end.
"If you were to ask me how long do we have left to wait? I don’t think it’s a matter of months, but I don’t think it's just a matter of a couple of days. It could be somewhere in between," Dr Muscat said.
He said he wanted the authorities to conclude as soon as possible but in such a way that they would have a rock solid case and possibly also close some other “major” past cases.
PN, PD react to reports
In a statement on Tuesday, the Nationalist Party said that at what appears to be a delicate stage of the investigation, the State should use all means at its disposal according to law, including exceptional ones, to apprehend whoever ordered, financed, and carried out the assassination.
The PN congratulated and expressed its support for the members of the judiciary and the investigation involved in the case.
And in a statement of their own, the Democratic Party reiterated their call for the government to accept the US Embassy’s offer to help.
“This is a critical moment in the fight against the Mafia that has decided to attack the very foundation of our democracy - the free press. We must ensure that no games are played. It is therefore essential for expert external support to be involved in all facets of the investigation and to support the police who continue doing a very important job. It remains imperative that the government accepts the US Embassy's offer for help in the ongoing investigations, as PD has been campaigning for,” the PD said.