Malta’s new government suffered its first political casualty linked to the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after a minister was forced to resign on Monday.
Justyne Caruana stepped down after it emerged that her husband, a senior police officer, flew to the UK to watch a football match with a millionaire businessman who is now in custody charged with masterminding the car bombing.
Silvio Valletta, the former head of the criminal investigation department, travelled to London to watch a Chelsea FC match at Stamford Bridge with Yorgen Fenech, who was arrested late last year on his luxury yacht in Maltese waters.
The story emerged after footage was found on Fenech’s mobile phone of the police chief in the business tycoon’s white Rolls Royce.
The minister’s resignation comes just a few days after Malta’s new prime minister, Robert Abela, was sworn in at the head of a new government.
Ms Caruana, the minister for the island of Gozo, said that she was “totally extraneous” to the affair and would remain as an MP with the ruling Labour Party.
But her resignation showed that while the government leadership has changed, the scandal over the murder continues to have ramifications for politicians and police.
Mr Valletta was deputy police commissioner when Mrs Caruana Galizia was blow up by a car bomb near her home in October 2017.
He withdrew from the case in June 2018 after an alleged conflict of interest, but three months later took the trip with Mr Fenech, one of Malta’s richest men.
He claimed that at the time he had no idea that Mr Fenech was a suspect in the murder.
"I never did anything wrong and would certainly never have gone abroad with anyone who I suspected or knew to be under investigation", said Mr Valletta, who is now retired from the police force.
But campaigners who are determined to find the truth of who ordered the journalist’s murder claimed police had identified Fenech as a possible suspect as early as March 2018 – months before the officer went on the trip to London with him.
“This once again exposes how close government members were to the whole affair. We have a new prime minister but he has already hit a stumbling block – a minister he appointed just last week has had to resign,” said Manuel Delia, a campaigner and the author of a book about the murder, told The Telegraph.
Corinne Vella, the murdered journalist’s sister, welcomed the resignation but said it should have happened in 2018.
“The minister should have stepped down as soon as she knew about her husband’s association with Fenech. A senior policeman should not have been consorting with a man he was supposed to be investigating. It’s very disturbing,” she said.