Two ministers and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff were forced out on Tuesday, in one of the most tumultuous days in Malta’s political history.
Minister Konrad Mizzi resigned while his colleague Chris Cardona “suspended himself” following fallout from the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
Chief of staff Keith Schembri was hauled in for police questioning on Tuesday morning, as the Prime Minister told journalists that he had received Mr Schembri's resignation the previous night.
Mr Schembri was questioned following reports that businessman Yorgen Fenech had told investigators he had incriminating evidence about him.
Investigators have discovered that Mr Fenech and Mr Schembri regularly spoke on the phone, with one of the last calls Mr Fenech made before his arrest being to the now-former chief of staff.
Mr Fenech was released on police bail later in the day for a third time in the afternoon and continues to seek a pardon in exchange for information – in a similar vein to murder middleman Melvin Theuma, who will testify before a magistrate on Friday morning.
Minutes before Dr Mizzi announced his resignation, the lights went out across the country. Enemalta said the nationwide power cut - which affected hospitals, the courts and mobile phone services - was due to an interconnector fault.
Political tensions reached boiling point in parliament, where two government MPs had be held back by their colleagues as they angrily approached Opposition MPs who were jeering them.
Outside the parliament building, protesters threw eggs, carrots and coins at the prime minister’s entourage as he was escorted to his official car and whisked away.
From there, they marched to outside the Prime Minister's office and insisted "Joseph Muscat must go".
Time to call it a day
9.24pm The noise has died down and Valletta's streets are quiet once again, after one of the most eventful days in Maltese political history.
We're calling it a night, too. Thank you for being with us throughout the day - we hope we helped keep you informed.
A brief round-up of the day's events will be uploaded above this shortly.
Protest draws to a close
8.57pm Maltese flags (and the odd EU one) fly high, activists belt out the national anthem and phone flashes shine bright as the fourth protest in seven days comes to an end.
Muscat gets another vote of support
8.39pm Joseph Muscat received a unanimous vote of confidence during a Labour Party executive committee meeting tonight, the party said in a statement.
It's the second such announcement in as many days. On Monday, the PL said its MPs had unanimously backed Dr Muscat in a secret ballot.
Dr Muscat emphasised that vote on Tuesday morning, when asked whether he would be quitting together with Keith Schembri.
IF YOU'RE JUST JOINING....
These have been among the most turbulent 12 hours in Malta’s political history. Here's a recap:
• The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, has been questioned by police and has tendered his resignation.
• Minister Konrad Mizzi has resigned as minister, 24 hours after he told reporters “I stand tall”.
Earlier in the day, a court had fined him €250 after he failed to show up at the scheduled time for a court hearing. The court retracted the fine when Dr Mizzi made it there, albeit 45 minutes late.
• Minister Chris Cardona has “suspended himself”, though legal experts tell us that is constitutional nonsense.
• Dr Muscat told reporters in the morning that he would not be stepping down as the country needed “stable leadership” at this juncture.
• Businessman Yorgen Fenech has told investigators that he has incriminating information about Keith Schembri. The two were in regular phone contact and one of the last calls Mr Fenech made before he was arrested was to Mr Schembri.
• Murder middleman Melvin Theuma, who was granted immunity from prosecution on Monday, will be testifying before a magistrate on Friday morning
• Parliament was suspended after two MPs, including a minister, approached Opposition benches and had to be restrained by other MPs.
• Angry protesters gathered outside parliament and pelted the Prime Minister’s entourage with eggs and coins.
Mizzi says he will stay on as MP
8.15pm: At the end of a PL executive meeting, Konrad Mizzi tells reporters the people had given him their vote to serve them in parliament and he will continue serving his term. This morning, Dr Mizzi was forced to resign as Tourism Minister.
A Dutch MP has questions
7.59pm The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly rapporteur for Malta, Peter Omtzigt, asks a series of questions about today's events.
"If the Panama Papers had been investigated and Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi been asked to resign three years ago, would Daphne Caruana Galizia still be alive today?" the Dutch MP asks.
About that power cut...
7.46pm Enemalta said power was restored to all localities by around 6pm.
But a leading energy sector expert tells us something does not add up about their explanation – problems with the undersea interconnector.
“A total blackout can only occur if the base load fails,” they tell us. “And Electrogas is responsible for security of supply. They can't hide behind the interconnector.”
Labour Party executive is meeting
7.35pm The Labour Party's national executive committee is currently meeting - but the meeting was scheduled and is not an emergency one.
'Move to Castille square'
7.25pm Blogger Manuel Delia, who is one of the organisers of this evening's protest, has encouraged people at the protest to gradually move to Castille square.
"Let’s continue the protest in a bigger square," he tweeted.
An angry crowd
7.19pm A barricade was knocked down in the crush, ministers were pelted with eggs and coins and the anger seems to be mounting as time goes by.
Parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri says his car was damaged by protesters and has written a Facebook post reminiscent of Justice Minister Owen Bonnici's following similar events last week.
Read our full story about the protest. We will be updating it as the evening progresses.
Hilton keeps quiet, as AD demand elections
7.09pm Alternattiva Demokratika say the country needs to go to the polls, as the Labour Party has "abused its electoral mandate".
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Hilton International has told us that they will not comment on Yorgen Fenech's arrest.
“We have been managing Hilton Malta on behalf of The Tumas Group since it opened. We look forward to continuing to welcome both local and international guests at this superb hotel," they said.
Labour moves its meeting to Fgura
7.01pm A change of plans for the Labour Party. Joseph Muscat was due to hold a political meeting in Żejtun on Sunday, but it's now been moved to Fgura's Hompesch Road.
A party insider said the change was due to "logistical issues".
A scrambled getaway
6.56pm Eggs fly as the Prime Minister is escorted out of parliament and into his car.
Meanwhile, the Speaker has rejected the PN's motion for an urgent debate. We'll have a full story about that available shortly.
Phone not working?
6.49pm We've reached out to phone operators, who all tell us that they experienced disruptions due to the nationwide power cut but that they're gradually restoring services.
Can Chris Cardona suspend himself?
6.43pm The Economy Minister's announced earlier that he was "suspending himself" pending investigations. But legal experts tell us it's Constitutionally impossible.
"He cannot remain a minister, have the powers of a minister, be paid as a minister and enjoy all the privileges of being a minister while not attending his duties and turning up for work," one told us.
“Where is the Police commissioner?”
6.20pm That's what protesters outside parliament want to know.
There's considerable anger among the crowd.
Parliament is still in session, though it's suspended while the Speaker rules on a motion calling for an urgent debate about the day's resignations.
Reminder: the Speaker refused a similar motion calling for a debate on the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case on Monday, saying he feared it would end up prejudicing the murder investigation or the rights of suspects.
Eggs and all
6.11pm MPs are exiting parliament, and they're not all getting the same sort of reception.
Our reporters tell us a couple of eggs flew in deputy Prime Minister's general direction as he headed out to his car.
PN MPs Jason Azzopardi and Karol Aquilina, on the other hand, were all smiles.
Who was Yorgen Fenech calling?
5.58pm Yorgen Fenech was in regular phone contact with Keith Schembri, sources have told us.
What's more, the businessman called the former chief of staff in the hours before he set sail aboard his yacht at dawn on Wednesday.
5.52pm There's quite a crowd outside parliament now - it will likely grow larger over the coming hour - and they're raising quite the ruckus.
5.15pm We mentioned a rowdy parliament earlier, with two MPs - one of them a minister- having to be restrained. Here's a full report of what happened when MPs met this afternoon.
Press freedom organisations speak out
5.07pm A coalition of press freedom organisations have issued a statement reminding the Prime Minister that "there must be no political interference in the [Caruana Galizia] investigation".
"We are concerned that the Prime Minister, by placing himself at the centre of the investigation, raises the spectre of undue executive interference in the investigation."
The statement is signed by 10 organisations, including Transparency International, Reporters Without Borders and PEN International.
Read it in its entirety here.
MPs and their cars
4.58pm Parliament square used to be car park until not too long ago. It's gone back to those roots today.
4.40pm Steel barricades mean pedestrians are being kept a good distance away from parliament today.
Muscat's rowdy Castille exit
4.35pm Here's video of Joseph Muscat leaving Castille just after 4pm.
He was met with jeers and quickly escorted into his official car, to be rolled down the 150m to parliament.
Labour rallies its supporters
4.32pm Labour MPs are sharing a poster encouraging supporters to gather in Żejtun on Sunday. Joseph Muscat will be holding a meeting there, and the party is hoping for a show of force.
Parliament suspended as MPs have to be restrained
4.30pm It's very heated in parliament. Opposition MPs cried out "mafia" as the Prime Minister walked in, prompting Labour MPs Carmelo Abela and Anthony Agius Decelis to cross the floor in anger.
They had to be restrained by security, we are told.
YORGEN FENECH GETS BAIL... AGAIN
4.11pm Yorgen Fenech gets police bail for the third time, 48 hours after his arrest. His lawyers are insisting that he gets a presidential pardon. It is not clear what is holding up the prosecution.
Delia wants a vote
4.05pm PN leader Adrian Delia has called on the President of the Republic to ascertain whether the Prime Minister still enjoys the support of the majority of the House of Representatives. The call comes a day after Muscat won unanimous backing in his group. And Labour do have a few seats to spare in parliament.
Muscat to stay put, sources say
3.59pm Keith Schembri is out. Konrad Mizzi is out. Chris Cardona is (sort of) out. Many will be wondering whether the Prime Minister will be next.
But our sources say Joseph Muscat is staying put. Recall that Dr Muscat called - and unanimously won - a secret confidence vote among Labour MPs just yesterday.
Konrad Mizzi's rise and fall
3.55pm He rose like a star, and crashed like one too. Read our profile piece about the man who just six years ago was dubbed Labour's 'star candidate'.
Chris Cardona suspends himself
3.30pm Economy Minister Chris Cardona, who was questioned by the police over the weekend, has suspended himself.
A government spokesman said Dr Cardona had done so until ongoing investigations were concluded.
3.20pm Activists outside Castille yelled 'barra, korrott' ['get out, you're corrupt'] as Dr Mizzi said he was resigning because he felt it was his duty to do so in the current political climate.
That's quite a change of tone from Monday, when Dr Mizzi was telling reporters "I stand tall".
Konrad Mizzi has resigned
3.13pm Konrad Mizzi has resigned as minister. He is currently speaking to reporters outside Castille.
3pm Sources tell us there will be announcements made after the Cabinet meeting now running in its fifth hour. We are expecting news of resignation/s.
Blame the interconnector
2.50pm Were you affected by the (17) blackout? Let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Enemalta has blamed the undersea interconnector and said problems were on the Sicily side of it. We'll have a full story up soon.
Meanwhile, sources tell us ministers are wrapping up their mammoth Cabinet session.
Massive power cut
2.40pm A widespread power cut has swept across much of Malta. The jokes write themselves, really.
Clarion call for University students
2.16pm The University students' union, KSU, says its members will be attending tonight's protest outside Castille, and they want other students to join them.
"The people are the ultimate safeguard in a democracy," they say.
Business lobby's strong statement
2.05pm The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry has issued a rather strong statement about the state of business in Malta. It says the probe has brought to the fore the extent to which criminal activity had infiltrated the circles of power, and operated unperturbed for years.
"As representatives of the business community, we disassociate ourselves from all those who use business as a shield for criminal activity," it says.
The clock is ticking
2pm Unless Yorgen Fenech is arraigned in the coming three hours he would have to be given police bail again, as 48 hours would have transpired since his arrest. He is insisting on a presidential pardon to name others in the crime. That is Joseph Muscat's call to make, on advice of the police commissioner and attorney general.
1.54pm Top lawyer Stefano Filletti was spotted outside police headquarters a few minutes ago. He is believed to be representing someone in this case - though at this stage it remains unclear who.
NGO joins calls for resignation
1.50pm Human rights organisation Aditus says the country can only start healing with the immediate resignation of Joseph Muscat.
"The doubts which emerged from the probe damage the integrity of the Office of the Prime Minister and the only way for the office and, consequently, the nation, to be protected from further damage is for Joseph Muscat to resign with immediate effect," it said in a statement.
Stage is set
1.31pm Activists are setting up a stage right outside the Prime Minister's office at Castille - as Energy Minister Joe Mizzi is spotted catching a peek.
'I will speak after Cabinet'
1.27pm Konrad Mizzi was in no mood to chat as he walked. He says he will speak to reporters after a Cabinet meeting and ignores questions about whether or not he has resigned.
Konrad Mizzi spared €250
1.22pm From the law courts: Konrad Mizzi has been spared a €250 fine after making it - albeit late - to testify in a case concerning the hospitals privatisation deal.
The minister walked out of court and is being chased by reporters as he walks to his ministry, where he enters a ministerial car and is whisked away.
1.08pm Here's a quick run-through of events today:
- Keith Schembri is being questioned by investigators working on the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case and has resigned as OPM chief of staff.
- Yorgen Fenech has linked Mr Schembri to other corruption deals and has said he will provide more information if he is granted a pardon.
- Cabinet ministers are meeting at Castille, and sources tell us it is a turbulent affair and to "expect developments".Minister Joe Mizzi looks on from the Cabinet room onto the movements in Castille Square. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
- Konrad Mizzi rushed out of the cabinet meeting to court to testify after getting word that a court had fined him €250 and ordered that he be brought there under arrest.
- Civil society groups are preparing to protest outside Castille tonight. Some are already setting up, six hours before the scheduled event.
MEP Miriam Dalli reacts
1.03pm Labour MEP Miriam Dalli spoken out for the first time since this scandal erupted last week. It's a Facebook post written in the sort of couched language so many politicians are fond of.
"The decisions that have to be taken, must be taken," she says. "The entire truth must emerge and this chapter closed, for the country to move forward.
Police cars at Keith Schembri's home
12.53pm Plenty of activity at Santa Marija estate, where Mr Schembri lives.
Cars seen exiting police HQ
12.51pm At least four vehicles - three police squad cars and an unmarked white van - left police headquarters at around 12.45pm. Our reporter spotted a man huddled over in the back seat of one of the cars, as he tried to shield himself from view.
EPP boss speaks out
12.45pm EPP president Manfred Weber says Joseph Muscat faces a lot of questions now and must assume political responsibility over his "close" staff members.
OPM - just cruising?
12.38pm Our man at the police depot just noticed an unusual vehicle driving around the Floriana police headquarters.
Police swoop in on Schembri's house
12.30pm Police have been seen going inside Keith Schembri's house in Mellieħa. Witnesses said they saw police seizing items from his house.
Konrad Mizzi fined for contempt of court
12.20pm While Dr Mizzi battles for his political future, the courts have fined him for €250 for having failed to show up to testify in case concerning the Vitals healthcare privatisation deal.
The minister was due to appear before Judge Francesco Depasquale.
That's not all - the judge has ordered the court to issue an arrest warrant for him to be brought to testify.
At 12.25pm he was seen leaving Castille to go testify.
"We are in the middle of a cabinet session and I will be giving comments later," he told our reporter outside.
We'll have a full story about that available shortly.
12.15pm: We've been informed that there will be "developments" from the Cabinet meeting currently under way. A number of ministers have made it clear that Konrad Mizzi has to go.
Delia speaks: Muscat must go
11.54am Opposition leader Adrian Delia is giving his reaction to Tuesday's news.
The man filling Keith Schembri's OPM boots
11.40am Joseph Muscat said Mark Farrugia would now serve as his chief of staff. Farrugia was Schembri's deputy and has a long history of working within Labour ranks.
You might remember Farrugia as the man pictured alongside Schembri in that (in)famous photo Schembri posted shortly after the 2017 electoral victory.
Read more about the OPM's new chief of staff here.
Caruana Galizia family reacts
11.33am The Caruana Galizia family have accused Keith Schembri of “wide-ranging and long-running” criminal activity and said that authorities now have to prosecute him “immediately”.
Read the family’s statement in full.
Uncertainty over Fenech arraignment and pardon
11.27am Yorgen Fenech is requesting a pardon to tell all about the murder. This could determine the timing of his arraignment. According to law, a suspect has to be arraigned within 48 hours of arrest. Mr Fenech was rearrested for a third time on Sunday. He could be given police bail by 4.30pm today.
Prosecute Schembri, family says
11.20am In a statement, Caruana Galizia's family urged the authorities to immediately prosecute Schembri for his "wide-ranging and long-running criminal activity".
Who is Keith Schembri?
11.20am Keith Schembri was the veiled hand of power behind Joseph Muscat. It was quite the rise for a man who was a relative unknown in political circles until the early 2010s.
Read our profile about the rise and fall of Keith Schembri.
Wednesday evening protest outside Castille
11.10am: Civil society activists had called a protest for Wednesday evening.
Instead, they've moved a planned protest forward to tonight and will be meeting outside Castille at 7pm. It comes just a day after hundreds braved the wind and rain to protest outside parliament.
11am: We're informed that several journalists are stationed outside the police headquarters, including from major international organisations.
9.35am: Cabinet meeting is under way. The political crisis has been sparked by the arrest of Yorgen Fenech and middleman Melvin Theuma.
Schembri quits as chief of staff
9.30am: Joseph Muscat says Keith Schembri has stepped down from his role as chief of staff at the OPM. Mr Schembri was known as the architect behind Labour's rise to power in 2013.
Schembri called in for police questioning
7.30am: Reports that Keith Schembri has been called in for questioning by the police. According to sources, Mr Schembri was mentioned in recordings between Fenech and suspected Daphne Caruana Galizia murder plot middleman Melvin Theuma, sources said.
7am: Police say investigators continued to interrogate 'other' people in connection with the Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
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