Lawmakers from Malta’s ruling Labour party have stood by the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, amid a crisis prompted by an investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia but his future remains uncertain.
Pressure grew both within and outside the party for Muscat to quit after the investigation into the 2017 car-bomb killing of the anti-corruption journalist led to charges against a prominent businessman with alleged ties to ministers and senior officials.
Yorgen Fenech, 38, was taken to a Valletta court late on Saturday and charged with complicity in the murder. He pleaded not guilty to that and other charges.
The government had earlier turned down Fenech’s request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing information about the murder plot and about alleged corruption involving Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri and the former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, among others, court filings showed.
Schembri and Mizzi resigned on Tuesday. Schembri was interrogated for two days by police before being released without charge. He has denied any wrongdoing. Mizzi denied any business links with Fenech and any wrongdoing.
The Labour party’s parliamentary group met for four hours on Sunday at Girgenti, the prime minister’s official countryside retreat, saying afterward that lawmakers gave “unanimous support to all decisions which the prime minister will be taking”.
The prime minister was thought to be seeking to stay in office until a successor was chosen, according to local media and government officials close to Muscat, who said he was likely to stay on until the party held a leadership election in mid-January.
On Saturday Caruana Galizia’s family called for Muscat to step aside. The journalist had reported that Schembri and Mizzi set up secret companies in Panama. She also reported how another company, 17 Black, was meant to be a vehicle to deposit funds into those companies.
An investigation by Reuters and the Times of Malta showed Fenech as having been the owner of 17 Black.
Mizzi denied any business ties to Fenech or knowledge of 17 Black or any criminal activity.
Schembri has always denied any wrongdoing. Speaking on Saturday for the first time since his arrest, he denied being the author of a typewritten letter that Fenech told police he secretly received after his arrest. Fenech said the letter told him to pin the blame for the murder on another government minister.
“I immediately denied that the letter came from me when the police were interrogating me and I stand by that completely,” he told the Times of Malta.