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The killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia



Being a journalist can be a lethal business. The measure of a scribbler's success in that regard can often be gauged by the threats and dangers that pursuit entails. The deeper the digging, the greater the danger. In Malta, shudders are being felt through the media and political establishment. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced his intention to resign. Other officials are doing the same.

Daphne Caruana Galizia pictured in March 2018 in Valletta, Malta. (Photo supplied by Getty Images for the Daphne Project)Malta's equivalent of the accusing ghost of Banquo is that of the slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed by a car bomb purchased from Maltese gangsters and supplied by the Italian mafia, on 16 October 2017. Caruana Galizia had been avidly engaged in those bread and butter pursuits that make an investigative journalist terrifying to establishment complacency, testing claims of corruption among Malta's political and business elite. Her work, and daring opinions on Maltese political life, had proved thorough enough to earn a contract on her life.

Caruana Galizia had much to work with. Over decades, both the Nationalist and Labour parties have jockeyed over ruling the island, tolerating varying degrees of corruption. From 2013, however, the flavour got that much more intense. As Alexander Capp puts it, the Labour party enthusiastically did away with public assets, selling them to Azerbaijan. The island 'became a haven for ever greater flows of dirty cash, and people shuttled their own fortunes away to offshore holdings in Panama and Dubai'.

Running Commentary became Caruana Galizia's weapon of choice, a blog which unearthed many a scandal with probing severity. One post published the month of her death gives a sense about her acid commentary. 'This is what it has come to,' she observes of the jousting antics of the Nationalist and Labour parties: 'the triumph of evil and idiocy, a kakocracy on one side of the House and an idiocracy on the other.'

The Sunday evening address by Muscat was an unconvincing display by a politician caught in the headlights. 'From the very beginning, we made sure that the police had all the resources available. Europol and other international services were also fully involved. Today I am here to tell you that I kept my word.' Not exactly a ringing endorsement of exculpation. 'Some decisions,' he reflected over the murder inquiry, 'were good while others could have been better made.'

The date of Muscat's intended resignation — 12 January — is what has gotten tongues wagging. Why not an immediate departure from office? Indeed, Caruana Galizia's family think that something else is at play. In a released statement, they suggested an alternative reading. 'Muscat has delayed his resignation in an attempt to continue protecting himself and [his former chief of staff Keith] Schembri. There is no alternative explanation.'

The emerging picture of high level government complicity in the death of a journalist is becoming increasingly ugly. Troublemakers who question the Malta success story are to be dealt with. While brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat have been charged with the murder, for which 150,000 euros changed hands, the web is proving increasingly extensive. Muscat, it transpires, was George Degiorgio's hireling. Both Degiorgio brothers were part of an organised crime group where George and Alfred were respectively known as 'Ic-Ciniz' (the Chinese) and 'Il-Fulu' (the Bean).


"What gives the killing of Caruana Galizia that added sense of terror is the ease of its commission in a European state that has celebrated itself as a peaceful and thriving success story."


The prime minister and his friend Schembri feature alongside Melvin Theuma, said to be the middleman in the engineering of Caruana Galizia's murder. (Theuma admitted being the taxi driver connecting the killers and those who ordered the killing.)

Businessman Yorgen Fenech has also been charged with complicity in the killing, an interesting point given his ownership of 17 Black, a Dubai-registered company that was outed in the Panama Papers, and allegedly planning secret payments to companies established by Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Schembri himself.

What gives the killing of Caruana Galizia that added sense of terror is the ease of its commission in a European state that has celebrated itself as a peaceful and thriving success story. The killings of other journalists — for instance, that of the fearless Anna Politkovskaya in Russia in October 2006 or Agos editor Hrant Dink in Turkey in January 2007 — have been seen as the dangerous and murderous symptoms of police states and paranoid rulers.

The 2018 murder in Istanbul of Saudi dissident writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi death squad furnishes us with a disturbing parallel. The ruling Labour party in Malta has been increasingly miffed by having to investigate Caruana Galizia's killing even as it celebrates the country's achievements. The extent of corruption has been denied. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, advertises itself as a reformist state rather than a suspicious theocracy sliding into police rule. Where it cannot harm, it bribes.

The brutal and sanguinary lesson to draw from these cases is that the work of investigative journalists, wherever undertaken and published, can pose grave risks to their lives and welfare. When they are harmed, rest assured that apologias, denials and frustrated public investigations will follow. Speaking truth to power can be a lethal affair.



Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Daphne Caruana Galizia pictured in March 2018 in Valletta, Malta. (Photo supplied by Getty Images for the Daphne Project)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Daphne Caruana Galizia, investigative journalism, Jamal Khashoggi, Anna Politkovskaya



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Existing comments

Daphne sounds like a maverick reporter and that does make for torrid times. Malta boasts a wonderful church, The Church of the Shipwreck of St Paul (on San Pawl Street) and I’m hoping a few prayers for her were sent heavenward from there.

Pam | 05 December 2019  

Great coverage of an event not so well covered by the main stream media

arunmehta | 06 December 2019  

Another martyr in the cause of journalism - truth-telling for the public benefit.

Jolyon Sykes | 07 December 2019  

Wouldn't happen here, having whistle-blowers put out of the way by virtual extra-judicial assassination, would it? Digging up dirt on governments that would better be left buried. Where was that nasty Assange chap from again? And what happened to Witness J, and may happen to Witness K?

Pat Mahony | 07 December 2019  

Well analysed Binoy and a fearless expose. Malta has become the go to place to register crypto currency companies. That it has become the home of the Italian and Russian mafia is not surprising as it's a money laundering haven. Anti money laundering and know your client rules have become pivotal in ASIC's fight to control the movement of crypto currencies here, but in Malta, it's still the wild west. Sobering indeed to reflect on the murder of another whistleblower and a parallel can be drawn to Julian Assange rotting away in a British goal. Another pawn in a political game where the State Department wants revenge for leaks of USA atrocities abroad, now disguised as State secrets. Trump, who once praised Assange, now has no inclination to show some backbone and save him. I wonder in 5 years time whether anyone will remember Daphne Caruana Galizia or indeed Julian Assange if the USA makes a scapegoat of him.

Frank Armstrong | 08 December 2019  

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