Maltese police search yacht amid journalist slaying probe


Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech, wearing dark sunglasses, is accompanied by police during a search of his yacht at the dock of Portomaso, Malta, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Fenech was arrested Wednesday, then released on police bail late Thursday as investigators try to find a mastermind of the 2017 murder of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia on the small island nation. (AP Photo/stringer)

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VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Maltese police on Friday searched the yacht of a prominent local businessman who is being questioned about the car-bomb slaying of an investigative journalist as the victim’s family presses authorities to find out who ordered the attack.

Police searched Yorgen Fenech’s yacht in his presence then brought him in for questioning in the 2017 slaying of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on the small island nation. Earlier in the week, Malta’s military intercepted the yacht with Fenech on board while it was in Maltese waters, heading north, its destination not immediately known.

Fenech, a hotelier and director of the Maltese power company, was initially arrested Wednesday, then released on police bail late Thursday. Fenech’s name appeared three years ago in the Panama Papers — millions of leaked documents that shed light on how the rich hide their money.

In her blog, Caruana Galizia boldly wrote about corruption and investigated the affairs of Maltese politicians and business figures as well as those doing business with the European Union member.

Eight months before she was slain, Caruana Galizia alleged in her blog that a company called 17 Black Ltd., listed in the Panama Papers, was connected to Maltese politicians.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Friday described the investigation as “the biggest our country has seen,” but he contended that no politicians were tied to the slaying.

Caruana Galizia’s sons have alleged that Fenech has links to Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and to Konrad Mizzi, who was energy minister when the Panama Papers were leaked. He lost that ministry portfolio, but after the 2017 election which kept Muscat in power, Mizzi became tourism minister, his current post.

“We remind Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that the assassination investigation implicates his own office and his closest officials,’’ the family said in a statement Friday. “The prime minister has no place anywhere near the investigation, and we trust that he will now distance himself from it.”

Caruana Galizia never said whether she had discovered who owned 17 Black Ltd., but in April 2018 dozens of journalists who continued her reporting under a joint venture named the “Daphne Project” reported that Malta’s money laundering watchdog agency had identified the owner as Fenech.

The Daphne Project followed a paper trail to two Panama companies registered to the chief of staff and former energy minister, who stood to receive payments from 17 Black for unspecified services. There is no evidence the payments were made.

Three people were arrested in December 2017 on suspicion of detonating the bomb that killed 53-year-old Caruana Galizia as she drove near her home. Trial has not yet begun. The mastermind also has yet to be identified.

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