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Why Malta Is In Turmoil Over The Unsolved Murder Of A Journalist

NOEL KING, HOST:

For the past few weeks, the island nation of Malta has been in turmoil over the murder of an investigative journalist. It's been more than two years, and the murder still hasn't been solved. But now Malta's prime minister says he's going to resign after allegations that his top aide was complicit in the murder. Joanna Kakissis has the story.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says he will step down after January 12. It's a less than honorable exit for the charismatic 45-year-old leader who was once the golden boy of this Mediterranean island nation. His downfall began with the 2017 murder of Malta's most prominent journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking non-English language).

KAKISSIS: She investigated corruption and implicated his inner circle. Caruana Galizia was killed by a bomb planted in her car. Weeks later, Muscat told the broadcaster Euronews that he would make sure her murderers would be caught and punished.

(SOUNDBITE OF EURONEWS BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER JOSEPH MUSCAT: We're giving all the resources to investigators to make sure that we get to the bottom of it. This is a difficult period. But the outrage that is shown by government, by the people shows that this is not what we stand for. This is not something that we will brush aside.

KAKISSIS: But Caruana Galizia's family accuses Muscat of protecting those who masterminded her murder, including his top aide Keith Schembri. In a recent podcast for the British journalism site Tortoise, Caruana Galizia's youngest son Paul explains his anger.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE TORTOISE PODCAST")

PAUL CARUANA GALIZIA: Not only did these people kill or facilitate the killing of my mother but they tried covering it up - you know, layer upon layer of crime and corruption.

KAKISSIS: Work published by a consortium of international journalists who continued Caruana Galizia's investigations led to the arrest last month of billionaire businessman Yorgen Fenech. He's been charged with complicity in her murder, but he says he also has dirt on Schembri, who stepped down as the prime minister's top aide last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Mafia, mafia, mafia, mafia...

KAKISSIS: Mafia, mafia - thousands chanted on Sunday, filling the streets of the capital, Valletta, accusing Muscat's government of a cover-up. Muscat's party backed him in a confidence vote. But in a televised speech on Sunday night, he said he decided to resign for the good of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUSCAT: (Speaking non-English language).

KAKISSIS: "I will make sure justice will be served," he said, "because no one is above the law."

But Caruana Galizia's family says the prime minister should resign at once and have nothing to do with the investigation.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.