The Mysterious Death of Panama Papers Investigative Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Caruana Galizia was the first person to learn of the Panamanian companies before the Panama Papers leak of April 2016. The Panama Papers are a collection of over 11 million leaked documents exposing shady financial dealings from more than 200,000 offshore entities, some dating as far back as the 1970s. When Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia began connecting the dots between corruption in her home country and information in the Panama Papers, she may have finally crossed a line organized crime wasn’t willing to tolerate — in October of 2017, she was killed by a car bomb outside of her home. Today, the murder remains officially unsolved… because the corrupt people she was exposing for their crimes are the ones running the system.

Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia (née Vella; 26 August 1964 – 16 October 2017) was a Maltese journalist, writer, and anti-corruption activist, who reported on political events in Malta. In particular, she focused on investigative reporting into government corruption, nepotism, patronage, allegations of money laundering, links between Malta’s online gambling industry and organised crime, Malta’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, and payments from the government of Azerbaijan. Caruana Galizia’s national and international reputation was built on her regular reporting of misconduct by Maltese politicians and politically exposed persons. For decades, she refused to give up on her reporting despite intimidation and threats, libels and other lawsuits. Caruana Galizia was arrested by the Malta Police Force on two occasions.

One of those who sued her — and got a court to freeze her bank accounts — is Malta’s economy minister, whom she enraged with a report that he had been seen along with an aide in a brothel in the German town of Velbert. The minister, who was visiting Germany on government business, insisted he had been attending a conference at the time of the reported sighting.

Readers’ main access to her investigations was through her personal blog Running Commentary, which she set up in 2008. She was a regular columnist with The Sunday Times of Malta and later The Malta Independent. Her blog consisted of investigative reporting and commentary, some of which was regarded as personal attacks on individuals, leading to a series of legal battles. In 2016 and 2017, she revealed controversial and sensitive information along with allegations relating to a number of Maltese politicians and the Panama Papers scandal.

The list of people whom Ms. Caruana Galizia offended and infuriated as a prolific journalist in this tiny Mediterranean island nation includes many members of Mr. Muscat’s ruling Labour Party as well as the leader of the center-right opposition. Also on the list: the president of Azerbaijan and his family, executives of a Chinese electrical equipment manufacturer, foreign drug barons, an Iranian-born banker and people active in offshore tax havens like Panama and the British Virgin Islands.

Panama Papers

Caruana Galizia was the first person to learn of the Panamanian companies before the Panama Papers leak of April 2016. On 22 February, she hinted on Running Commentary that Maltese government minister Konrad Mizzi had connections with Panama and New Zealand. This compelled the minister to reveal the existence of a New Zealand-registered trust, two days later, which he claimed was set up to manage his family’s assets. On 25 February, Caruana Galizia revealed that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat‘s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, owned a similar trust in New Zealand which in turn held a Panama company.

The April 2016 leak confirmed that Mizzi owned the Panama company Hearnville Inc, and that Mizzi and Schembri had also opened another company, Tillgate Inc. The companies were also owned by the Orion Trust New Zealand Limited, which are the same trustees of Mizzi and Schembri’s New Zealand trusts, Rotorua and Haast respectively.

As the first person to break news of Mizzi’s and Schembri’s involvement in Panama, she was subsequently named by Politico as one of “28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.”

Politico described her as a “one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta.”

In 2017, she alleged that Egrant, another Panama company, was owned by Michelle Muscat, wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. These allegations are what ostensibly compelled Muscat to call the June 2017 general elections, which saw Muscat’s Labour Party return to power, though Caruana Galizia believed he had other motives.

Her last blog post before leaving in her car read, “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

Death

Ms. Caruana Galizia, 53, had an insider’s grasp of that world. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in her last blog post, just a half-hour before she left her family home by car to run errands and was blown to pieces.

The site of the explosion was at the top of Bidnija Road, limits of Mosta (upper right-hand corner). At around 3 pm on 16 October 2017, Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb attack on her leased Peugeot 108, while she was driving close to her home in Bidnija. The murder took place exactly five years to the hour after the dismissal of Malta’s former senior official in the European Union, the disgraced former health commissioner John Dalli, another target of Galizia. The murder, Mr. Dalli said, “had absolutely nothing” to do with his own troubles.

Mr. Delia was initially so angered by Ms. Caruana Galizia’s articles, which included details of a secret offshore bank account he controlled, that he filed four complaints against her for defamation. He dropped the cases after the killing and is now trying to position himself as her defender, demanding that the prime minister, Mr. Muscat, resign and take “political responsibility” for the car bomb.

The explosion left the vehicle scattered in several pieces across nearby fields. She was in the driver’s seat at the time. Her remains were found by her son Matthew, 80 meters away from the blast site, after he heard a blast from their family home. He wrote on Facebook: “I looked down and there were my mother’s body parts all around me”. Her death marked the sixth car-bombing in Malta since the beginning of 2016, the first one where the victim was not a known criminal and the fourth fatality.

The Maltese news media reported that the bomb that killed Ms. Caruana Galizia was made from Semtex, the plastic explosive that brought down a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Malta’s previous car bombings involved more easily obtained explosives and targeted known criminals or their associates.

Barring during elections, her home had not been under police guard since 2010. According to police sources, her protection was further relaxed after the Labour party was returned to power in 2013. The power to set up a public inquiry into whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life could have been saved rests with the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat. He did not immediately set up a public inquiry. A formal request by Caruana Galizia’s heirs to set up a public inquiry was presented by letter to Malta’s prime minister in August 2018, based on the legal opinion of Doughty Street Chambers and Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

Reactions

Flowers, candles and tributes to Daphne Caruana Galizia left at the foot of the Great Siege Monument, opposite the Law Courts in Valletta.

Her family criticised the Maltese authorities for doing nothing against a growing “culture of impunity” in Malta, saying that Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Chris Cardona, Konrad Mizzi, Attorney General Peter Grech and a long list of police commissioners who took no action, were complicit in her death. Her family refused a request to publicly endorse a government reward of one million euros for information, despite pressure from the Prime Minister and President, and insisted that the Prime Minister ought to resign.

One of Caruana Galizia’s sisters insisted that “the President and the Prime Minister are “downplaying” the assassination and “working to transform her into a martyr for their cause,” indicating that calls for national unity were a sham, and that to “call for unity is to abuse her legacy. There should never be unity with the criminal and the corrupt.”

The car bomb attack was condemned by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who stated that he “will not rest before justice is done” despite her criticism of him. President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and a number of politicians also expressed their condolences or condemned the murder. Opposition leader Adrian Delia called her death “the collapse of democracy and freedom of expression” and stated that “[the country’s] institutions have let us down”. Fellow blogger Manuel Delia, a former PN official, called her “the only ethical voice left. She was the only one talking about right and wrong.” The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commission condemned the attack in the strongest terms possible.

She stirred such strong feelings that her killing prompted cheers in some quarters. Ramon Mifsud, a police officer whom she had portrayed in her blog as a drunken habitué of bars and lap dancing clubs, celebrated her killing with a post on his Facebook page: “Everyone gets what they deserve, cow dung.” Suspended from the police force, he quickly deleted the message.

Ms. Caruana Galizia loathed the Labour Party, and she used to support the Nationalists until Adrian Delia, took over. She described Mr. Delia as being in cahoots with criminals because of his previous work as a lawyer on behalf of Maltese clients, who she said ran a prostitution racket in London’s Soho district.

The President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani called the death a “tragic example of a journalist who sacrificed her life to seek out the truth.” Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, stated that the organization is “shocked” by Caruana Galizia’s death and “is deeply concerned about freedom of the press in Malta.”

A plenary session of the European Parliament was held on 24 October, with MEPs observing a minute’s silence. Several members of Caruana Galizia’s family attended the session at the hemicycle in Strasbourg. The press room at the European parliament building was renamed in her honour. A debate on freedom of the press and the protection of journalists in Malta also took place. Following this visit and the following debate, a delegation is to be sent by the European Parliament to investigate the rule of law, high-level cases of money laundering and corruption in Malta.

The car bombing was reported in both local and international media. Caruana Galizia’s name began trending worldwide on Twitter, and a number of Maltese expressed their mourning by blacking out their Facebook profile pictures. The hashtag #JeSuisDaphne, echoing the term Je suis Charlie, trended locally.

The Malta Independent wrote that “for many people, looking up her blog was the first thing they did each day, and the last thing too. Now there is just emptiness. A silence that speaks volumes.” Both the daily and the weekly version of her column were published as blank pages in the days following her murder.

Mr. Balzan, the managing editor of Malta Today, said that while he was a critic of Ms. Caruana Galizia’s work, he was appalled and frightened by her murder. “What happened has taken us back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Who would want to work in journalism after this? Why should I go to work when people are asking: Who will be next?”

Thousands of people attended a vigil in Caruana Galizia’s hometown Sliema on the night of 16 October. Another vigil was held at the Malta High Commission in London.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced that he would pay a €20,000 reward “for information leading to the conviction of Caruana Galizia’s killers.” A crowdfunding campaign was initiated with the aim of raising €1 million to be given as a reward for information that leads “to the successful prosecution of the assassin and the person or persons who ordered the assassination.” This was followed by a further state-sanctioned reward of €1 million.

Students, ex-alumni, teachers, parents and members of the San Anton community held a peaceful vigil from City Gate to the Great Siege Monument in Valletta, in support of the Caruana Galizia family. The three Caruana Galizia siblings were all students of San Anton School.

On 22 October 2017, the Civil Society Network organised a protest demanding justice in Valletta. Thousands of protesters demanded justice in the aftermath of the assassination and called for the immediate resignation of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General.

A number of protesters who took part in the rally, also went on to the police headquarters in Floriana to call for the police commissioner’s resignation. After staging a sit-in protest in front of the main door, a banner with a photo of police chief Lawrence Cutajar accompanied with the words “No change, no justice – irrizenja (resign)” was placed on the headquarters’ gate.

On 17 April 2018, a consortium of 45 journalists from 18 news organisations, including The Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde and the Times of Malta, published “The Daphne Project“, a collaborative effort to complete Caruana Galizia’s investigative work.

After her death, crowds gathered in front of the Law Courts, to mourn and express solidarity with the Caruana Galizia family and to demand justice. The Great Siege Monument became a focal point for protests and calls for justice, with tributes, memorials and vigils held there frequently. The choice of this monument as a remembrance site, though strategically located opposite the law courts, was spontaneous, a follow-up to the flowers which were first placed there by San Anton School pupils.

Investigation

Forensic teams and police investigators arrived at the crime scene soon after the explosions. The head of the magisterial inquiry was initially to be Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera, who had previously had the police prosecute Caruana Galizia for criminal libel in 2010–11. Caruana Galizia’s family successfully challenged her role in the investigation, citing her conflict of interest. Scerri Herrera recused herself from the investigation 17 hours later and was replaced by Magistrate Anthony Vella.

Muscat stated that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation was asked to help the police in investigating the car bomb attack. A police forensic investigation team from the Netherlands also arrived to assist. The investigators were also joined by three Europol officials. On 4 December 2017, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat announced that ten individuals had been arrested in connection to the investigation, three of whom were later charged with executing the assassination. None of the three suspects have been brought to trial. None of the intermediaries and mandators have been identified and prosecuted. Malta’s prime minister continues to block a public inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Justin Borg-Barthet, a Maltese legal expert who lectures at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said the legal system, built up during British colonial rule, has been so steadily eroded by political meddling and constant reshuffling of the police leadership that virtually nobody expects justice to be done in the case of the murdered journalist. “Trust does not function as a reliable constitutional principle when people are untrustworthy,” he said.

Funeral

Caruana Galizia’s remains were released for burial on 27 October 2017, and a public funeral was held on 3 November 2017 at the Rotunda of Mosta. Thousands of mourners attended the funeral, applauding and making “V” for victory signs as her coffin was carried out of the church by her sons. The day was observed as a national day of mourning in Malta.

The funeral mass was conducted by Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, who in his homily told journalists “never to grow weary in your mission to be the eyes, the ears, and the mouth of the people.” In a message directed to Caruana Galizia’s sons, Matthew, Andrew, and Paul, he said: “As you know, whenever your mother was abroad, she had a habit of lighting a candle in church for each one of you: the silent prayer of a mother for her children … Your beloved mother died a cruel death by the hidden hand of someone that valued darkness over the light for his actions are evil. See that you will always be the children of the light.”

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not attend the funeral, saying Caruana Galizia’s family made it clear that they were not welcome. The Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia, was “conspicuous by his absence”.

Among the people at the funeral were several high officials: Silvio Camilleri, Chief Justice of Malta; Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament; Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; Eddie Fenech Adami, former President of Malta and former leader of the Nationalist Party; Lawrence Gonzi, former Prime Minister of Malta and former leader of the Nationalist Party; and Simon Busuttil, former leader of the Nationalist Party.

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