‘When state institutions are incapacitated, the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.’
BY RUSSELL LEADBETTER
THERE are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” These were the last words written by the fearless Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on her popular blog, Running Commentary, last Monday. Just a few minutes later she left her home and climbed into her rented Peugeot, and was killed when a powerful remote-controlled car bomb exploded.
The killing shocked Malta and the wider world. Caruana Galizia became the tenth journalist to be killed for his or her work this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Caruana Galizia, who was 53, also joins a list of distinguished female investigate journalists – Veronica Guerin in Dublin, Anna Politkovskaya in Russia, Gauri Lankesh in India – who got too close to the truth and paid with their lives.
Her near decade-old blog chronicled her fastidious and unrelenting efforts to expose alleged corruption and cronyism on the part of government officials and business executives. Her allegations were aimed at, among others, Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat and the country’s energy minister.
She also worked assiduously to shed light on the country’s links to offshore tax havens using material in the Panama Papers, the sensational leak of 11.5 million documents from the database of Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s largest offshore law firms.
When the leaks reportedly showed that some of Muscat’s associates had set up bank accounts in Panama, she relied on her own knowledge, sources and intuition to find information that led her to allege that Muscat’s wife, Michelle, owned one of these firms. Maltese officials continue to deny this.
Muscat sued Caruana Galizia earlier this year over the allegation and an allegation that funds had been switched between the company and bank accounts in Azerbaijan. Muscat and his wife denied the accusations. He even went to the country, calling a snap election in order to win a vote of confidence to counter the allegations
He has vowed that he will not rest until the killers have been tracked down. “She was a very harsh critic of mine, the harshest I ever had,” he acknowledged. Muscat said he had been “extremely shocked” by the killing and that it was a “barbaric attack on freedom of expression that goes against every sense of decency and civility”. Galizia’s son, Matthew, who endured the harrowing experience of witnessing the immediate aftermath of the explosion, posted on Facebook on Tuesday: “My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists. But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist. Which makes her the first person left dead.”
On Thursday, Matthew, himself a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist, and his brothers Andrew and Paul, posted another message on his Facebook page: “After a day of unrelenting pressure from the President and Prime Minister of Malta for what’s left of our family to endorse a million-euro reward for evidence leading to the conviction of our mother’s assassins, this is what we are compelled to say.
“We are not interested in justice without change. We are not interested in a criminal conviction only for the people in government who stood to gain from our mother’s murder to turn around and say that justice has been served. Justice, beyond criminal liability, will only be served when everything that our mother fought for – political accountability, integrity in public life and an open and free society – replaces the desperate situation we are in.”
Matthew has also described the tiny island of Malta – population just 436,947 (considerably smaller than Glasgow’s 598,830) – as a “mafia state” run by “crooks”. His mother’s blog is said to have been visited by some 400,000 people a day.
Galizia was born Daphne Anne Vella in August 1964 in Sliema. She was taught at a prominent school for girls and at the Jesuit St Aloysius College. Later still came a university degree in archaeology. She married a lawyer, Peter Carauna Galizia, in 1985 and two years later turned her hand to journalism. She made her name on the Sunday Times of Malta and, as an associate editor, on the Malta Independent.
On the politico.eu website this week, Paul Dallison, a colleague of hers at the Malta Independent, wrote: “On her visits to the Independent’s office, she cut a rather intimidating figure. It was as if a celebrity had walked in. She rarely stopped to speak, instead heading straight to the editor’s glass office. When her column pinged into our email inboxes, it regularly elicited ‘oohs’ and ‘ouches’ as she unleashed both barrels on the target of the day.”
The frustrations of the confines of her twice-weekly column there, he added, led her to launch Running Commentary. There can’t have been a soul in the country who didn’t recognise her or have a strong opinion of her, he added.
The hunt for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal killers continues. In the meantime, it’s a sobering experience to peruse her blog critiques and exposes, in which no-one in power was spared. That final sentence – “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate” – is particularly hard to read in the light of her brutal death.
Main image, police inspect the wreckage of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car. Top right, women light candles during a candlelight vigil in Sliema and, above, Caruana Galizia photographed in Malta in April