[WATCH] Yorgen Fenech’s pardon denied, Muscat says he’ll stay on as Prime Minister

Prime Minister calls urgent Cabinet meeting on Thursday at 8:30pm but meeting drags on way beyond midnight and PM gives press conference at 3:30am

Joseph Muscat gave a press conference at 3:30am
Joseph Muscat gave a press conference at 3:30am

Updated at 3:45am on Friday with cabinet meeting press conference

At the end of a seven-hour long cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Thursday announced that Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech had asked for a presidential pardon three times, all of which were denied.

Muscat said he had asked for written advice from the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police.

He said allegations by Fenech against his former chief of staff Keith Schembri, made after the first pardon was refused, were investigated.

“The Cabinet was informed that any other allegation being made was being investigated, actively. I left the final decision with my colleagues. During this part of the meeting, I retired and left all deliberations in the hands of my colleagues. The detailed recommendation of the AG and the CoP was that there was no reason to issue the pardon to Fenech, and the Cabinet accepted this reasoning, unanimously, who decided that it’s not fit to grant a pardon,” he said.

He added that as far as investigations were going, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri was not involved in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

When asked whether Schembri would be reinstated as chief of staff or in another position within the government, Muscat said that he wouldn’t. 

Journalist were allowed up in Castille in the press conference room after the long wait. Muscat only allowed four questions, with plenty of security surrounding the room.

Outside, protestors gathered in Castille place, seething with anger at the news of Schembri’s release. The son of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Matthew, was at the forefront of the demonstration. He was denied entrance to the Castille press conference.

Muscat insisted he wanted the case to be closed on his watch, and said the authorities had delivered major breakthroughs. “I will stay on until the investigation is complete,” Muscat said, with some ministers present behind him. Education Minister Evarist Bartolo and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna were amongst those missing from the group.

Muscat was pressed on the fact that Schembri was present for multiple Malta Security Service meetings which discussed Yorgen Fenech as a main suspect. “I think the fact that we have come so far means the investigation has not been compromised… What I can say for a fact is that I was never asked to keep Mr Schembri out of the meetings.”

“As is the case with all prime ministers, I have to be briefed on national security issues. This was a case that shook our democracy. Given the fact that this led to high-profile arrests, this shows our institutions work and deliver. Our pardon has been scrutinised by the European Commission and the Venice Commission, both of them not having flagged any issue with the system. This is not a discretionary power: no politician can decide as a matter of fact whom to grant immunity, but it is based on advice of the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police. We simply endorse the recommendation.”

After the presser, journalists were not allowed to leave, faced with security staff and locked doors. Journalists had an argument with security, which never turned physical, but still journalists were denied freedom to leave.

Ministers had been called in for an urgent Cabinet meeting ay 8:30pm with an agenda was not communicated to them. The Police Commissioner and the Attorney General were also present.

The meeting came at the end of another long day for the police as investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia continued in earnest.

Ministers were seen walking in, including deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia but did not answer any questions from the press.

In the meantime, Fenech was seen leaving the law courts in Valletta this evening after filing a constitutional case against the the chief investigator in the Caruana Galizia murder case, Keith Arnaud. He claimed that Arnaud had been continuously informing the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri - who was himself arrested on Tuesday night -  on the progress in the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The police this afternoon dismissed a plea by Fenech for Arnaud to be removed from the case.

Keith Schembri was released from arrest.