Maltese MPs back country's prime minister Joseph Muscat to keep his job despite ...

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Malta's prime minister has won his party's backing to stay on in his post despite protesters' calls for him to go for his handling of a probe into the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat got the unanimous backing of Labour MPs at an emergency meeting, called a day after tycoon Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in the murder. 

A court has also frozen Fenech's assets.

The investigation has rocked the southern Mediterranean island, reaching the highest echelons of government.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (pictured at a press conference on Friday) will step down on January 18, party sources say

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (pictured at a press conference on Friday) will step down on January 18, party sources say

Parents of the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia Rose, left, and Michael Vella, right, attend a protest outside the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Parents of the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia Rose, left, and Michael Vella, right, attend a protest outside the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat 

Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech pictured leaving court yesterday. He was this evening charged with complicity in murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech

Yorgen Fenech (pictured yesterday), a Maltese hotelier and director of the Maltese power company, was charged in the evening courtroom hearing with being an accomplice to causing the explosion that killed the 53-year-old reporter as she drove near her home

Critics including members of Caruana Galizia's family have accused Muscat, 45, of protecting those involved in murdering the popular journalist and blogger who exposed cronyism and sleaze within the tiny country's political and business elite.

But a party insider said after Sunday's four-hour meeting: 'The entire group was supportive of Joseph Muscat, and we told him that it's for him to choose when to step down.'

Meeting at Muscat's summer home, the MPs also agreed to reinstate Chris Cardona as economy minister and deputy leader.

Cardona had announced last week that he was 'suspending himself' as the investigation into the killing of Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack implicated top government officials.

Last week, the scandal claimed the scalps of Muscat's top aide Keith Schembri and the former tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi.

Police sources said Fenech had identified Schembri as the 'real mastermind' behind the killing.

Caruana Galizia, described as a 'one-woman WikiLeaks', accused Schembri of corruption along with Mizzi and Cardona.

Caruana Galizia's family and thousands of protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets calling for Muscat's resignation.

People holding placards and photos of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia stage a protest called by Galizia's family and civic movements on November 29

People holding placards and photos of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia stage a protest called by Galizia's family and civic movements on November 29 

Last week, the Council of Europe's special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt also called on the Labour PM to step down 'at the earliest possible opportunity'.

But Muscat himself insisted he would remain in power until the case was 'closed'.

On Saturday, party insiders said Muscat was ready to go once those behind the killing had been charged.

The Labour Party would then elect his successor on January 18.

'The prime minister has said from the outset that he will leave no stone unturned to solve this despicable murder under his watch, and he delivered exactly that with the arraignment of someone who is believed to have commissioned the murder,' a party insider said.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat makes a statement to media on the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on November 22

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat makes a statement to media on the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on November 22 

Meanwhile a European Parliament delegation is due to arrive on Malta late Monday and stay until Wednesday.

Led by Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld, it will examine doubts about the judiciary's independence and investigate allegations of high-level corruption.

'Malta is part of Europe,' in't Veld tweeted. 'This concerns us all.'

Leaked emails revealed in court indicated that both Schembri and Mizzi stood to receive payments from a Dubai company called 17 Black, owned by Fenech.

The murder probe gained momentum following last week's arrest of the tycoon, whose business interests span the energy, casinos and tourism sectors.

A protester holds a photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia outside the prime miniser's office on Friday

A protester holds a photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia outside the prime miniser's office on Friday 

His detention came after an alleged middleman in the murder, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was offered immunity in exchange for identifying others who were involved.

Although Schembri, Muscat's former chief of staff, was arrested Tuesday, his release on Thursday sparked accusations of a cover-up.

Anti-government protesters were set to hold fresh rallies outside the parliament in Valletta on Sunday.

A Maltese court is expected to rule Monday on a request by Fenech for the chief investigator in the case, Keith Arnaud, to be removed amid allegations he also had close ties to Schembri and the prime minister.  

It comes after party sources said Muscat will step down on January 18.

Insiders said on Saturday Muscat would step down once those behind the killing had been charged and once his Labour Party has chosen a new leader.

'He always said that he will be leaving soon and he feels that now is the time to go,' said one party source.

First however, he wanted to see that the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder was solved on under his watch, as he had promised, sources added.

'After the mastermind or masterminds are arraigned in court, he plans to announce that he will be stepping down and that there will be a leadership election on January 18,' a party source said. 

The sources did not say when 45-year-old Muscat would announce his decision to step down - or whether it would be via a televised announcement - but they stressed that he would not stay beyond January 18.

A police van carrying entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech leaves the Malta Law Courts in Valletta on November 30, above and below

A police van carrying entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech leaves the Malta Law Courts in Valletta on November 30, above and below

The news came amid mounting pressure from Caruana Galizia's family and protesters on the streets, who have cried foul over his handling of the affair.

The escalating murder investigation has rocked the tiny Mediterranean island and reached the highest rungs of the country's politics, with two ministers and Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri stepping down from their posts this week.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Valletta Friday evening after Muscat refused to give immunity to the main suspect in the 2017 murder, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, to disclose what he knows about the case.

It was the sixth such demonstration in two weeks.

Fenech has identified Schembri as the mastermind behind Caruana Galizia's 2017 car bomb killing, according to sources.

Schembri was arrested on Tuesday, but his release on Thursday sparked accusations of a cover-up.

Fenech was arraigned in court and charged with complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Fenech was arraigned in court and charged with complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia 

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