Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar has resigned, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life into her ethical conduct with Yorgen Fenech.
The junior minister bowed to pressure after reports by Times of Malta revealed how she had benefited from a property deal involving Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder suspect.
In a statement uploaded on Facebook, Cutajar said that over the past few weeks she had been subjected to "several unfair attacks", political spin and misleading comments.
Later, the government published her letter of resignation to Prime Minister Robert Abela and said he "welcomed the resignation, pending the outcome of the investigation".
He thanked her for "putting the interests of the government and the country before her personal interests".
Announcing her decision, Cutajar said she would not comment on how some people had access to private conversations "despite a clear court decree that declared this to be a criminal act".
But, she said, several messages had been made public in a selective manner, without context, going back to 2019, when she held no executive post. This was done to undermine her reputation and harm the government and the Labour Party, she alleged.
She said she wanted to reiterate that she was never in business with Fenech.
“Despite knowing him, as soon as I learnt that he was accused of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, I broke off all contact,” she said.
“Let me be clear, in the years that I knew Yorgen Fenech, I never used my political posts to influence any process or decision.
“I was never asked to do so and even if I had been asked, I would never have broken the people’s trust. In my political career I always acted honestly and with integrity.”
She said she would give further explanations before the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.
In the meantime, however, upon reflection, she decided to offer her resignation from her post of parliamentary secretary pending the outcome of the exercise by the standards commissioner.
She said she was doing so out of respect to the Labour Party and because she wanted the government to continue to work "with serenity". At a time when the country was demonstrating that the rule of law prevailed, she would not let anyone use her to attack the government, Cutajar said.
Links to 17 Black owner
In recent weeks, Cutajar was revealed to have received cash from Fenech as part of her role in brokering a €3.1 million property sale in 2019, which fell through after his arrest in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Cutajar had taken a €9,000 cut from a €40,000 pile of cash passed on to her by Fenech as part of the property deal. She is separately being chased to repay an alleged €46,500 brokerage fee she took from the Mdina property seller.
She made no reference to these payments in her annual parliamentary financial declarations.
She also solicitied help from Fenech for a political survey in her district in 2019 and made a speech criticising the Council of Europe for its report criticising 17 Black, around the time she was negotiating a property deal with its owner.
At the time, Fenech had already been unmasked as the owner of 17 Black, a secret company set up to funnel money into the Panama accounts of then OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi.
The company, set up in the United Arab Emirates, is viewed as one of the potential motives behind Caruana Galizia's murder, for which Fenech stands accused along with three suspected triggermen and two alleged bomb suppliers.
Opposition’s reaction: PM should have removed Cutajar
Rosianne Cutajar announced her decision at the same time as Opposition leader Bernard Grech was giving a press conference on the latest developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia case.
In a reference to the announcement, Grech said Cutajar had taken her decision because she had no other option.
“Robert Abela has failed another test. He had lacked the courage and power to remove Cutajar immediately and could only act after pressure fromt he opposition and civil society,” he said.
Repubblika: Cutajar should also leave parliament
In a statement, NGO Repubblika said Cutajar should also step down from parliament after allowing Fenech to take advantage of her public position.
The NGO, which held a protest against the junior minister on Wednesday, said it would continue doing its utmost to ensure that politicians who are connected with criminals are forced to step down and be accountable to the public.