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Rule of LawMalta

Malta failed to protect murdered journalist, says inquiry

July 29, 2021

A public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has concluded that the Maltese state failed to protect the journalist from threats to her life.

A protester holds up a picture of murdered reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia on the fourth day of a demonstration outside Malta's prime minister's office in Valletta, Malta, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019
Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a massive explosion near her home village of Bidnija in October 2017Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The government of Malta failed to adequately protect anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and bore responsibility for creating a "culture of impunity," an independent inquiry into the car bomb murder concluded on Thursday.   

The inquiry, conducted by one serving judge and two retired judges, found that a culture of impunity was created by the highest echelons of power within the government of the time.

"The tentacles of impunity then spread to other regulatory bodies and the police, leading to a collapse in the rule of law," said the panel's report.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, who made the inquiry report public, said that the report merited "mature analysis."

"Lessons must be drawn and the reforms must continue with greater resolve," he said.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Caruana Galizia, an outspoken and well-known Maltese journalist, started looking into the Panama Papers leaks in 2016 and eventually uncovered offshore companies connected to Malta's business and political world.

Her anti-corruption career, partly as an opinion writer interested in politics, had led her to one of the most important investigative projects in Europe.

The Maltese murder: How has corruption gone this far?

When Caruana Galizia began uncovering high-level corruption in the country, she was slapped with both libel and defamation lawsuits that increased dramatically in the final year of her life.

Caruana Galizia was killed in a massive explosion near her home village of Bidnija in October 2017.

The murder caused international outrage, prompted sustained public protests across Malta and close scrutiny by the EU.

What did the judges say?

A public inquiry into Caruana Galizia's murder began in June 2019 following domestic and international pressure.

In their report, the three judges — two retired and one sitting — leading the inquiry said that the risk to Caruana Galizia's life escalated from the moment she exposed the corruption and offshore dealings of Malta's political and business elites through the 2016 Panama Papers leak.

That confrontation with the government continued to escalate "until the moment she was assassinated," the panel said.

They stressed that the state failed to recognize the real and immediate risks to Caruana Galizia's life and failed to take reasonable steps to avoid them.

The judges called for immediate action to rein in and regulate the close ties between the political and business elites.

They also recommended altering the criminal code to ensure better protection for journalists working in Malta.

Political crisis in Malta

Who is accused of masterminding the murder?

Prosecutors believe top businessman Yorgen Fenech, who has close ties with senior government officials, masterminded Caruana Galizia's murder.

Fenech, who is awaiting trial, denies all responsibility.

At a court hearing, Fenech implicated Keith Schembri, the chief of staff to former PM Joseph Muscat, who resigned in January 2020 following Fenech's arrest.

Muscat was never accused of any wrongdoing.

Three men suspected of setting off the bomb were arrested in December 2017. One has since pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and is serving a 15-year jail term. The other two are awaiting trial.

sri/aw (Reuters, dpa)