Killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia: The event that shook Malta’s political elite

On December 1st 2019 Malta’s Prime Minister announced his resignation for the following month, ending his seven-year rule in the European Union’s smallest country. The decision came after two years of investigations into the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the subsequent political crisis that hit the island’s political elite.

The car bomb attack killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017, shocking not only Malta but the entire European Union. The murder of Galizia was questioned right away due to the brutal nature of her assassination and intimidation she faced during her career as a journalist. Caruana Galizia was an important journalist for the country due to her popular blog Running Commentary where she was publishing her findings about the country’s public figures and exposing their involvement in corruption. The blog was widely popular in Malta and beyond since its establishment in 2008, despite facing criticism by Malta’s top leaders and their supporters. During the period before her death, Galizia was working on several articles where she was exposed links between the country’s well-known figures and Panama papers such as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, former Minister of Tourism Konrad Mizzi and first lady, Michelle Muscat. In Caruana Galizia’s writings, she claimed that these officials had offshore companies in both Panama and New Zealand. Due to Caruana Galizia’s courageous investigative journalism and “one-woman Wikileaks” approach, names close to the Maltese government immediately became the main suspects in the case.

Following the murder of Caruana Galizia, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised to leave no stones unturned, and started investigations and arrests, even with the participation of security and forensic experts from other countries. In December 2017, the government announced the arrest of 10 people in connection with the inquiry. Among the suspects, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat were charged with the car bomb attack in July 2019, but none of them were brought to the trials and no details were revealed about the mastermind of the case. Months after the first charges, prominent Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested by the authorities, accused to be the mastermind in the Caruana Galizia murder. The arrest came days after a taxi-driver, Melvin Theuma, was arrested for his role as a middleman in the killing. Theuma was later granted a presidential pardon by President George Vella, with the request of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, when he exposed the involvement of Fenech in ordering the assassination. Theuma accused Fenech of paying €150,000 for killing Caruana Galizia. During his arrest Fenech gave further names involved in the event, saying that Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri was directly involved. After the accusations of Fenech, Schembri resigned from his role, and he was then followed by other names such as Minister of Tourism Konrad Mizzi and Minister of Economy Chris Cardona. After a series of resignations of those close to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the once top-tier candidate for the President of the European Council, saw his image destroyed and later had to announce his resignation on December 1st.

All of the names involved in the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, were frequent subjects of her investigations and they were already facing various accusations. Daphne’s blog continued even after her death by a research group called The Daphne Project, where the group was continuing to expose hidden connections, also trying to find links to Caruana Galizia’s murder. Thanks to the findings of The Daphne Project, it was revealed in 2018 that Yorgen Fenech was the owner of the Dubai-registered company 17 Black, which was already mentioned in Caruana Galizia’s investigations, prior to her death. The Daphne Group also found out that 17 Black had links with two companies in Panama which were said to have belonged to Konrad Mizzi and/or Keith Schembri. Fenech was ousted as the head of Black 17 after the series of findings, making it the reason why he decided to turn his back on his long-time ally Keith Schembri and turning him to the security forces. Despite all these reports before and after the death of Caruana Galizia, Muscat didn’t do anything in calling for the resignation of his allies such as Schembri, Mizzi. This was the main issue where he lost his credibility in front of his citizens and institutions, causing his house of cards to collapse.

Joseph Muscat will resign from his duty as the Prime Minister on 12 January 2020, ending his chapter in the long-running story that started with the murder of a courageous journalist on her way back home. Despite a series of resignations there are still hundreds of unanswered questions about the murder and the findings of Caruana Galizia. Galizia and The Daphne Project’s ambitious works showed the power of investigative journalism to the world, exposing documents which weren’t only showing the ugly face of hidden political games in Malta but also beyond. Killings of other names like Caruana Galizia, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria, show that investigative journalism is still facing serious burdens and threats, even within the European Union. On the other hand, the episode of Caruana Galizia shows that the courage of a person may have serious impacts, wherever it may be, and even after their death.