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France to probe tycoon on Malta journalist’s murder charge

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Via Financial Times

French prosecutors have decided to start a preliminary investigation into the business activities of the Maltese magnate charged with the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, opening a fresh front in a scandal that has shocked Europe and caused the resignation of a Maltese prime minister.

The inquiry in Paris is a response to allegations by the slain blogger’s family that Yorgen Fenech, one of the Mediterranean island state’s richest businessmen, made corrupt use of funds generated from hotels and racehorses in France. 

The French prosecutor’s office declined to disclose the name of the suspects on Wednesday, only saying they would review whether their French activities had been “used to fund bribery of foreign public officials”. French authorities were acting on a complaint from Ms Caruana Galizia’s family and would work closely with their Maltese counterparts, they added in a statement. 

Mr Fenech’s arrest in Malta last year over the 2017 car bomb killing of Ms Caruana Galizia stoked dramatic developments in the Mediterranean island state and deepened fears over the deterioration in the rule of law.

Joseph Muscat, the prime minister, was forced to step down last month after public protests over authorities’ handling of both the murder probe and accusations of corruption against top government officials. 

Mr Fenech has pleaded not guilty to Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder and has denied any wrongdoing. Gianluca Caruana Curran, his lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request from the Financial Times for comment. 

Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of Daphne’s sons, said his family had launched the case in France themselves because “institutional failure and state capture have left our government without the will or capacity to deliver full justice”. 

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“The French National Prosecutor’s decision to open a preliminary investigation sets an important standard in the prosecution of corruption cases across European borders and in the crimes committed against journalists,” he said. 

A legal complaint filed in France in December by Ms Caruana Galizia’s adult sons Matthew, Paul and Andrew, her husband Peter, and the Reporters Without Borders campaign group, claimed Mr Fenech was suspected of using proceeds from his business activities in France to corrupt Maltese public officials and win a power station concession.

The complaint calls for an investigation into the fate of millions of euros generated between 2015 and 2017 by French hotels companies in the Fenech family conglomerate Tumas, which operates properties including the Hilton Evian-les-Bains. 

The complaint also alleges Mr Fenech earned more than €350,000 between 2015 and 2017 in winnings from a stable of seven racehorses. The horses — whose names include El Catwalk, Sugar Di Poggio and Do You Love Me — notched up seven victories between them over the period, the complaint claims. 

Mr Fenech’s arrest in Malta in November came after a suspected middleman in Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder gave information about the case in exchange for a presidential pardon. The tycoon was detained before dawn as he attempted to sail his luxury yacht away from the Maltese coast. 

Ms Caruana Galizia’s family and other campaigners have raised fears that the government of Robert Abela, the new prime minister from Mr Muscat’s Labour party, will not live up to its commitments for authorities to solve the murder and tackle corruption. 

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Questions loom over individuals including Keith Schembri, Mr Muscat’s former chief of staff, who was interviewed by investigators. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offence.

Additional reporting by Josephine Cumbo in London

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