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EXPLAINER: Why The Gozo Minister Resigned Over Her Husband’s Intimate Relationship With Yorgen Fenech

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Prime Minister Robert Abela’s newly-formed cabinet has lasted less than a week, with Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana resigning following the reveal of her husband’s intimate relationship with Yorgen Fenech, the man charged in connection with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana’s husband is Silvio Valletta, the former Deputy Police Commissioner who was forced off the murder investigation for his conflicts of interests.

Valletta’s brief tenure on the investigation has left its mark, having set up the unprecedented briefings on the investigation with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri.

But why is Caruana stepping down, Lovin Malta took a look at what we know so far:

1. What’s the story?

Former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta holidayed with Yorgen Fenech on 29th September 2018, travelling to London to watch Liverpool take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

An intimate relationship is rumoured, with a witness telling The Times of Malta that, during the flight, Fenech was heard telling his children to “hold uncle Silvio’s hand”.

Valletta insists that he did not know Fenech was a suspect at the time.

The same newspaper has since reported that a video uncovered on Fenech’s phone shows Valletta “fooling around” with the businessman’s luxury Rolls Royce.

2. Who is Silvio Valletta?

Beyond serving as the Deputy Police Commissioner, Valletta held a position on the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit board of Governors, which was controversial given the body’s investigations into his wife’s colleagues.

He resigned from both roles and the police force in August 2019.

Valletta had initially led the investigations into the assassination of Caruana Galizia. On 12th June 2018, a court-ordered him to step away from investigations because of a potential conflict of interest due to his marriage to Caruana and role on the FIAU board.

While the Attorney General appealed the decision the next day, it was confirmed on appeal on 5th October 2018. He was on holiday with Fenech just a few days before.

3. When were the police first aware that Fenech was a suspect?

Yorgen Fenech was identified as a suspect as late as May 2018, with Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat signing a warrant allowing the Malta Security Service to tap the businessman’s phone.

The police would have been the ones to ask the Malta Security Service to make the request.

Meanwhile, Chief Homicide Inspector Keith Arnaud has confirmed under oath that they were aware of Fenech and middleman Melvin Theuma’s potential involvement in the assassination.

Valletta was taken off the case in June 2018.

Arnaud has also told the court that Valletta was the one to initiate the unprecedented briefings on sensitive details of the investigation with Muscat and Schembri.

They informed the pair of the imminent arrests of the three men charged with carrying out the crime the same day Fenech received the information.

4. Who is Justyne Caruana?

Caruana had just been re-appointed to Gozo Minister in Robert Abela’s new Cabinet. She was first promoted by Joseph Muscat to the role after the general election in 2017, previously serving as the Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing.

She was first elected to Parliament in 2003 and kept her seat in every election since. Questions remain as to whether she will also resign as an MP. Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat have both held onto them.

It is rumoured that she will be replaced by her predecessor Anton Refalo, who served as Gozo Minister between 2013 and 2017. He was also parliamentary secretary for Gozo in the Alfred Sant government between 1996 and 1998.

5. Why is Justyne Caruana paying the price?

The scandal has proved to be the first major test for Prime Minister Abela’s tenure.

A change in leadership is by no means a substitute to the concrete action that needs to be taken following last month’s political crisis, with investigations yet to reveal the extent of the relationships Fenech held with the government.

It seems he was left with no choice but to act.

Caruana is paying the political price, with question marks remaining over her own relationship with Fenech. With her husband enjoying intimate ties, Caruana also needs to provide some answers on what she knew about their relationship.

Her silence on the issue since the crisis erupted must also be viewed with a new lens. Caruana’s decision to not publicly declare her relationship, all while taking selfies during an anti-corruption protest, raises serious questions.

READ NEXT: Robert Abela’s First Parliament Speech As Prime Minister: ‘My Minister Has Resigned’

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