Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said a suspect in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia will not be granted immunity to reveal what he knows about the case.
Businessman Yorgen Fenech had requested a presidential pardon in exchange for information.
Caruana Galizia, a prominent anti-corruption blogger, was killed by a car bomb in 2017.
Mr Muscat is under increasing pressure to resign over the case.
The prime minister has previously said he will only step down when those who ordered the killing are identified.
However, the Times of Malta reported on Friday that Mr Muscat was preparing to announce his resignation “immediately” amid the worsening political crisis.
Mr Muscat’s Labour Party has cancelled an event on Sunday at which the prime minister was due to speak.
- The murder that could bring down Malta’s government
- Resignations spark Malta crisis in murder scandal
Last week Mr Fenech was arrested in a dramatic raid on his yacht. He received hospital treatment after his arrest and has been given police bail.
Mr Fenech was identified last year as being the owner of a mysterious Dubai-registered company, 17 Black, listed in the Panama Papers – a massive leak of documents from an offshore law firm in 2016.
Caruana Galizia wrote about 17 Black eight months before her death, alleging it had links to senior government figures.
What did the cabinet decide overnight?
Mr Muscat called an emergency cabinet meeting to decide whether to grant Mr Fenech’s request.
The prime minister said it was the most appropriate course as Mr Fenech had made allegations against the PM’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri – who resigned last week and was arrested on Tuesday.
“I left the final decision with my colleagues, who decided that it’s not fitting to grant a pardon,” Mr Muscat announced at a press conference, flanked by ministers.
He stressed that his cabinet had followed the advice of the chief of police and the attorney general.
Police confirmed on Thursday that Mr Schembri had been released and was no longer of interest to investigators.
Angry protesters gathered outside the government palace in the early hours of Friday morning. One of Caruana Galizia’s sons threw fruit at the car of a government minister and shouted insults, Reuters news agency reports.
Mr Fenech, who has been released on bail, appeared in court on Friday as his lawyers argued for the chief investigator in the case to be removed.
When he left court later, Mr Fenech was mobbed by reporters and protesters.
He told a BBC correspondent outside the court: “I’m talking to the police. At this stage it’s premature to make any comments. I’m confident and determined that the truth will come out.”
The businessman has filed a request for President George Vella, and not the cabinet, to consider his request for a pardon, alleging a conflict of interest. A court is due to consider his request on Friday afternoon.
Under Malta’s constitution a pardon can be granted to “any person concerned in or convicted of any offence.”
Why have events come to a head?
Investigations into Caruana Galizia’s murder intensified when a suspected middleman was pardoned on Monday.
The prime minister told parliament the suspect, Melvin Theuma, was being given immunity in return for information about the killing. Maltese reports suggested he had audio recordings linked to the case.
On Tuesday, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi resigned and Economy Minister Chris Cardona took the decision to suspend himself after being questioned by police on Saturday. They deny involvement.
Mr Muscat’s chief aide, Keith Schembri, who had previously been named in the Panama Papers, quit.
Caruana Galizia alleged that Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi had benefited from secretive “shell companies”. Both deny wrongdoing.
What do we know about the murder inquiry?
Three men – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their 50s – have been charged with triggering the bomb which killed Caruana Galizia near her home in October 2017. They were arrested in December 2017 and pleaded not guilty in pre-trial proceedings.
Vincent Muscat later told police the bomb had been placed in Caruana Galizia’s car while it was parked outside the walled compound where she lived. The killings earned the trio 150,000 euros (£132,000), Reuters news agency reports.
Police have continued to investigate in the hope of finding out who ordered the killing.
The late journalist’s sister, Corinne Vella, told the BBC it was time the truth came out.
“We’re finally starting to see some progress in the investigation into Daphne’s murder,” she said.
“It’s welcome, it’s important, but it’s very far long overdue. To us, Daphne’s death has always been linked to her work, and we’ve maintained all along that justice for Daphne means justice for her murder, but also justice for all her stories, because to us they were connected.”