At 9.36pm last night, the Malta Police Force issued a statement.
“This evening, Keith Schembri was released from arrest following investigations over the past days into allegations made against him related to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia,” it read.
As the nation shook beneath the weight of that one sentence, ministers huddled inside the Prime Minister’s office at Castille last night and discussed what to do about a request to pardon Yorgen Fenech.
The Cabinet meeting finished around 3.30am and we know the future of the leadership of this country was discussed, because there are some sensible MPs who do realise that not all is right in the state of Malta.
It was the climax of another day of tension surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder investigation.
Clouds of conspiracy had been gathering all day.
In the morning, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he would only comment once the case was closed “hopefully in the next few hours”. That a prime minister can speak with such confidence about a case is quite concerning.
Given the circumstances surrounding this one, it was especially worrisome.
Later in the day, confirmation filtered through that the prime minister discovered that Mr Fenech was a prime suspect in the case way back in May 2018 and was given constant updates about the murder case.
Schembri was present for a number of those meetings with the Malta Security Service. Hence he was privy to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder probe.
Keith Schembri may well not be guilty or complicit in the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia.
It is the courts which determine guilt and mete out justice.
But investigators had ample reason to believe that he had sought to obstruct justice in the case and had passed Mr Fenech, while under arrest, covert messages through a doctor who is known to both men.
They have also heard Mr Fenech’s claims about other cases of corruption concerning Schembri. It did not matter, just as it did not matter when the Panama Papers implicated him in large-scale corruption – he was free to go.
Malta’s police commissioner has been out of sight from the very start, tucked away out of view while the nation burns.
With Schembri out, the middleman protected from prosecution and Fenech denied a pardon, the stage is set for the businessman to be the sole culprit.
From Labour’s perspective, the epilogue has already been set into motion: a mass meeting in Fgura on Sunday. Celebrations are in order.
Questions about Muscat’s conflict of interests in the case are now not just burning: they are in flames.
The prime minister has overseen a very serious investigation into his own best friend, which appears to have exonerated him before he even faced a court.
He has fronted the investigation as though he were the police commissioner. He received intelligence briefings about a murder suspect while working alongside the man that suspect claimed was the actual mastermind.
Given the outcome and the way in which it was reached, the question naturally arises: was the prime minister protecting someone? Was he protecting himself?
In such circumstances, to say that he must resign is to miss the point. Yes, Muscat must go.
But that is no longer enough. Now, Muscat’s own behaviour should be subject to investigation.
If you want to sound out your anger and despair at the sorry state of Malta, head to Valletta this evening to protest with civil society.
This cannot go on.
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