Joseph Muscat: Malta's PM tarnished by reporter's murder and graft claims

Valletta (AFP) –


Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who according to sources will resign over the murder of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, became premier in 2013 at the age of 39 and remained in power despite corruption scandals that dogged him and his entourage.

Born on January 22, 1974 in the town of Pieta, Muscat studied at a Jesuit school and began his career as a journalist, working for the Labour Party's media arm between 1992 and 1997.

An only child from a modest background, Muscat studied in Malta before being awarded a doctorate from Britain's Bristol University.

Despite having previously expressed opposition to Malta's entry into the European Union, Muscat was elected to the European Parliament in 2004.

He later resigned and became the head of the Labour Party in 2008.

Many saw Muscat as being too green and brash when he became prime minister, but he succeeded in winning over both the old guard and the younger members in the party.

- 'Too young, too self-assured' -

"When he came to power, Muscat by many was considered too young, too go-getting, too self assured," a local newspaper has said, adding however that he injected a "fresh feeling" into the party.

He was re-elected in June 2017 with an overwhelming majority, on the back of sound economic results which saw the tiny Mediterranean island enjoy an economic growth rate three times the EU average and an unemployment rate of a mere 3.4 percent.

Muscat had called the snap legislative elections called after his close entourage was accused of corruption by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

It was the first time since independence from Britain in 1964 that the Labour Party won two successive elections in Malta.

Caruana Galicia had also alleged that Muscat's wife Michelle owned a shell company established by Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Muscat's image started unravelling after Caruana Galizia died in a car bombing in October 2017 near her home.

Three men - brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their fifties - have been charged with triggering the bomb in her car.

The escalating murder investigation has rocked the tiny island and claimed high level scalps, with two ministers and Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri stepping down from their posts.

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 -- charged on Saturday with complicity in the mother-of-three's killing -- to disclose what he knows.

Fenech is the owner of 17 Black, a company based in Dubai that was allegedly set up to transfer money to the Panamanian companies - Hearnville Inc and Tillgate Inc - owned by former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat's ex chief of staff Schembri.