Police in Malta have arrested 10 suspects over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the country’s prime minister has said, nearly two months after the anti-corruption journalist was killed by a powerful car bomb.
Joseph Muscat told a press conference that eight people – all Maltese nationals, most with criminal records – had been detained in early-morning raids in three different parts of the island. He tweeted later that two more suspects were also in custody.
Muscat said there was a “reasonable suspicion” the suspects were involved in the killing of Caruana Galizia, whose popular blog attacked high-level political corruption, shady business dealings and organised crime on the island.
The joint police and military operation was the first breakthrough for the Maltese investigation, which has been helped by experts from the FBI, Europol and the Finnish and Dutch security services. Police now have 48 hours to interrogate the suspects and either charge or release them.
Muscat, who was a frequent target of Caruana Galizia’s blog reports along with others in his inner circle, said he could give no further details of the arrests, the suspects or the evidence against them, but offered his “personal commitment” that those responsible for the killing would be found.
Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew, who is also a reporter, told the Guardian his family were “in the dark” about the arrests and had been given no further information beyond a phone call from a magistrate’s office after the arrests were made public.
At a separate event, the island’s police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar, refused to take any questions about the arrests, which have been called one of the biggest police operations in Maltese history.
They took place in Marsa, where other car bombings have occurred, as well as Zebbug, a village in central Malta, and in the northern town of St Paul’s Bay. A section of Lighters Wharf in the port area of Marsa was still sealed off later on Monday as military personnel and police used sniffer dogs to search buildings.
The murder on 16 October sent shockwaves through the island and alarmed the EU, which was already concerned about the rule of law on Malta. The bloc’s smallest member state has often been branded a haven for dubious foreign money.
Last week, MEPs visiting Malta on a fact-finding mission said they had arrived “seriously concerned” about the rule of law and were leaving “even more worried”. They said an apparent reluctance to investigate and prosecute major cases had created a “perception of impunity”.
The journalist’s family are taking legal action against the island’s police, saying the investigation into the killing cannot be impartial and independent since Caruana Galizia wrote critical articles about both the senior officer now running it, Silvio Valletta, and his wife, a top government minister.
The family have alleged that her murder was a “targeted killing” of a journalist whose work focused on uncovering “corruption, criminality, conflicts of interest and ethical failures in decision-making” by politicians and their associates.
The family have raised other concerns about the investigation, which they say appears to be focusing only on forensic evidence rather than examining financial transactions that could uncover vital evidence. They also suggest leaks from within the police could intimidate potential informants.
The most significant investigations by the murdered journalist stemmed from the Panama Papers, a leak of documents from the archives of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. Malta’s government is offering a €1m reward for information relating to the killing.
A top Italian prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, has said he believes the murder could be linked to an investigation he is leading into a fuel-smuggling operation spanning Libya, Malta and Italy and involving organised crime groups in Sicily. Caruana Galizia wrote about some of those linked to the inquiry.
Antonio Di Pietro, an Italian politician and judge who was a prosecutor in Italy’s anti-corruption Mani Pulite corruption trials in the 1990s, said on Monday that Caruana Galizia’s murder had all the hallmarks of a mafia-style killing.
“It was professional and a classic mafia-style homicide,” Di Pietro told the Times of Malta. “The mafia’s style is intimidation. The target was not only poor Caruana Galizia … but all those around her because it was a clear warning: be careful or you’ll suffer the same fate.”
Responding to a public letter from eight of the world’s largest media organisations including the New York Times, BBC and the Guardian, the first vice-president of the EU commission, Frans Timmermans, last month issued a strong warning to Malta.
“The eyes of Europe are on the Maltese authorities,” Timmermans said. “We want those directly and indirectly responsible for this horrible murder to be brought to justice.”