VALLETTA: The lead investigator into the murder of Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia must be removed from the case because of a conflict of interest, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
The investigator, Maltese Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, is the husband of government minister Justyne Caruana and also sat on the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).
Both the government and FIAU were targets of critical reports by the anti-corruption journalist, and Caruana Galizia's family had long-demanded that Valletta be pulled from the case.
Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October. Three men have been charged with her murder and have pleaded not guilty. The police say they are still looking for the mastermind.
In Tuesday's ruling, Judge Silvio Meli said it was natural for doubts to be raised when an investigator in such a case had political ties, was the husband of a minister and a FIAU director.
He ordered Valletta to step aside and said the deputy commissioner's involvement in the investigation must be reviewed by his replacement.
Caruana Galizia's son, Matthew, welcomed the move, calling it an "important and necessary step towards justice".
(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Heavens)